(Photo: REUTERS/US Embassy Beijing Press Office/Handout)
In what has become a closely watched international diplomatic and human rights crisis, Chinese authorities said Friday they would consider allowing blind dissident Chen Guangcheng to leave the country to study abroad in the United States.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a statement that Chen could "apply through normal channels to the relevant departments in accordance with the law, just like any other Chinese citizen."
Chen, who is currently being kept at a hospital in Beijing, has been invited to study at New York University and has reportedly expressed no interest in seeking political asylum. The activist would reportedly be accompanied by his wife and child if his application is approved.
This decision came after the human rights activist, who escaped house arrest on April 22 and found himself in the spotlight after temporarily seeking refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, made it clear he had a change of heart about staying in China and suggested he did not feel he and his family would be safe if they stayed in the country.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has come under scrutiny, as some critics, including several Republican politicians, suggested American officials did not do enough to protect Chen and has abandoned him by leaving him at the hospital, where he was admitted voluntarily after leaving the embassy.
A senior Obama administration official said Thursday that the United States had recognized that Chen wanted to leave China, although by then the situation had become complicated once the dissident was no longer under U.S. protection at the embassy. Chen had reportedly revealed in phone conversations with supporters, that Chinese government officials had forced him to leave the embassy under duress.
Earlier this week, reports emerged after Chen's admission to the Beijing hospital that the dissident felt let down by U.S. diplomats. American officials were barred from seeing him at the hospital after escorting him there, it was alleged. From a published transcript of phone conversations between Chen and his friend, Teng Biao, on Wednesday, it seems clear Chen was uneasy about the U.S. officials' actions.
Here is a short excerpt of the phone conversation, as provided and translated by Christian human rights organization ChinaAid:
Teng: Are there people from the U.S. Embassy by your side?
Chen: No. They promised they would stay with me all the time, but they have left. Now it's just us at the hospital.
Teng: You're in great danger now! Were you supposed to meet with Hilary [U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] this afternoon?
Chen: We talked on the phone, but I haven't seen her in person.
Teng: Did [U.S. Ambassador to China] Gary Locke accompany you to the hospital?
Chen: Gary Locke, Cambell [Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell] and the others took me to the hospital, but they have all left.
"Please pray for Mr. Chen and his family's safety and freedom as the U.S. State Department has assured to the public," Mark Shan, a spokesman for ChinaAid, which assisted Chen during his ordeal, told The Christian Post via email Thursday.
Shan told CP he thinks the United States has a moral responsibility to protect activists like Chen and all those who stand up for human rights, no matter their nationality. "The free world, especially [a country like the] USA with its leadership [role]; has a moral imperative and obligation to ensure Chen and his family's protection; his fight for freedom is one shared by us all."
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Secretary of State Clinton told China that it must protect human rights and that "all governments have to answer our citizens' aspirations for dignity and the rule of law."
Chen, 40, was a known dissident targeted by the Chinese authorities for highlighting the ethical ambiguity of the government's one-child policy -- especially the aspect of alleged forced abortions and forced sterilizations. Chen illuminated the issue for the Western press, for which he reportedly has faced persecution from Chinese authorities, including imprisonment and torture. The dissident detailed the history of his alleged abuse in a video published immediately after his escape from house arrest.
After the hectic incident involving the American embassy, multiple groups, including conservative Christian advocacy group the Christian Defense Coalition, have called for the Obama administration to not let diplomatic relations interfere with protecting Chen's human rights.
Meanwhile, China has demanded an apology from U.S. authorities for "interfering" with its internal affairs.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Liu Weimin said Wednesday: "Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese citizen, was taken by the U.S. side to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing via abnormal means, and the Chinese side is strongly dissatisfied with the move.
"What the U.S. side has done has interfered in the domestic affairs of China, and the Chinese side will never accept it. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing has the obligation to observe relevant international laws and Chinese laws, and it should not do anything irrelevant to its function. China demands that the United States thoroughly investigate the event, hold relevant people accountable and ensure that such an event does not happen again."