Blind activist Chen Guangcheng could go abroad to study, China offered on Friday providing a cautious window of opportunity to resolve the diplomatic crisis between the US and China at a time of a high-profile ongoing dialogue between the two countries.
But how the situation of the 41-year-old self-taught lawyer’s situation will unravel was not immediately clear; for China, to allow Chen leave the country after his dramatic escape from months of house arrest followed by a six-day stay at US embassy could leave an uneasy precedence.
The time is sensitive for the Communist Party of China (CPC) – which could well perceive that the US was trying to corner it over rights issues – as it gears up for once-in-a-decade change of leadership later this year.
Details were also not shared about how and when Chen and his family could go abroad; some fear that after this new announcement, and once the media focus shifts, the formalities of Chen’s going abroad could be delayed.
The foreign ministry’s announcement that Chen could go abroad to study like “other Chinese citizens” came hours after another dramatic episode: speaking from his hospital bed in Beijing, Chen addressed US congressmen and senators over telephone. He requested for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help secure a safe passage for him and his family to America.
“I want to meet with Secretary Clinton. I hope I can get more help from her," he said, as an activist held a mobile to a microphone so his words could be heard by the gathered congressman and senators. “I want to come to the US to rest. I have not had a rest in 10 years.”
The Chinese foreign ministry’s statement came after noon on Friday. “Chen Guangcheng is currently being treated in hospital," ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in the brief statement, adding: “If he wants to study abroad, he can apply through normal channels to the relevant departments in accordance with the law, just like any other Chinese citizen.”
Shortly before the Foreign Ministry announcement, Chen had told Reuters: "My situation here is not very good. I've just found out that when friends have come to visit me, they've been beaten up. "As well, for two days I haven't been able to meet U.S. embassy diplomats. They came here, but they weren't allowed inside to meet me. I think this situation is very bad."
The Chinese media, meanwhile, continued to attack Chen and the US on the incident even launching a personal attack on the US ambassador Gary Locke.
“Unfortunately, throughout the Chen Guangcheng incident, the US ambassador to China has insisted on performing a role that is far from glorious and even could be called low and petty," said the Beijing Daily newspaper.
Locke was criticised for the very things he had become popular on his arrival last year. “Ever since he flew in economy class, carrying his own back pack and buying coffee with coupons, putting on a charade of being a regular guy, what we have seen is not an ambassador to China who is prudent in his words and actions, but a standard-issue American politician who goes out of his way to stir up conflict,” the paper said of Locke. And Chen, according to the media, was no longer an activist but a “tool” in the hands of the west.