Photo by U.S. Embassy Beijing Press via Getty Images
UPDATE: Still confined to a heavily guarded hospital room, the future of Chen Guangcheng is far from clear. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left China Saturday after Washington claimed it struck a deal to let the blind dissident leave China for a fellowship at New York University. But one “western source close to the case” tells the Telegraph that despite what officials said “it isn’t a done deal.”
Still, the New York Times points out that the Chinese government is likely all-too-happy to get rid of Chen. If experience is any guide, dissidents who go into exile almost immediately end up living a low-profile life. They may still complain about China’s government, of course, but fewer and fewer people are likely to listen. Chinese officials are also unlikely to ever allow Chen to return.
And if China does end up allowing Chen to leave the country, activists cautioned it should not be seen as a sign that the government’s controls will be easing any time soon. In fact, it could make things worse, dissidents tell the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, in an interesting turn of events, the Washington Post reports that one newspaper, the Beijing News, appeared to apologize for an anti-Chen editorial. In a microblogging account, the paper posted a photograph of a sad clown with the words: “In the still of the deep night, removing that mask of insincerity, we say to our true selves, ‘I am sorry.’ Goodnight.” Media analysts say the use of a clown image seems to indicate editors were trying to tell readers they were forced to write the editorial. China’s state-controlled newspapers all published scathing editorials criticizing not only Chen but also U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke.
Friday, May 4 at 12:06 p.m.: The U.S. said on Friday that they expect China to swiftly process and approve dissident Chen Guangcheng's application to study abroad.
The statement by U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland was much less ambiguous than an earlier statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. According to the Guardian, Nuland said that "the Chinese government has indicated that it will accept Mr Chen's applications for appropriate travel documents," adding, "the United States government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention."
Chen has reportedly been offered a fellowship from New York University. Nuland said that Chen's family would also come to the U.S. as part of the arrangement.
Once again, however, the apparent deal doesn't seem to be as clear cut as diplomats from both countries are saying it is. The Washington Post reports that Guangcheng will need to apply for travel documents through "normal channels," which means returning to his home village (where he was under house arrest) to obtain a passport.
Friday, May 4: On Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng can apply to study abroad in the U.S., "just like any other Chinese citizen.”
Chen is currently in a Beijing hospital receiving treatment for an injury sustained during his escape from house arrest.
The New York Times notes that the remarks are in response to a statement by Chen indicating that he had been invited to study at New York University. The Times explains that possibly allowing Chen to study abroad is likely China's attempt to cool down a diplomatic crisis that embarrassed the country after an official story on Chen's release from the U.S. embassy quickly fell apart.
But Reuters is a bit more cautious with their analysis, noting that Chinese diplomats may be more eager than the country's security forces to let Chen leave the country.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin said at a press briefing quoted by the Times that he was certain that “competent Chinese authorities will handle his application in accordance with the law.” There are over 300,000 Chinese students currently studying abroad.
Meanwhile, China seems to have Chen on lock-down. His home village of Dongshigu was still heavily guarded on Friday, as Reuters reports, and U.S. officials have been unable to visit him since an initial deal between the two countries collapsed.
The case is quickly gaining political significance in the U.S., with Republicans blasting the Obama administration's handling of the deal with China. Chen himself seems to agree, telling the Times on Thursday that the "U.S. government was not proactive enough" in guaranteeing his and his family's safety.
Thursday, May 3: The State Department confirmed Thursday that Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng has had a "change of heart" and now wants to leave China with his family.
The Associated Press first reported the apparent collapse of the agreement that would have kept Chen in China just hours after the deal was announced. Chen told the outlet that he had agreed to the deal that would have kept him in China only because Chinese officials had threatened to kill his wife if he remained holed up in the U.S. embassy.
The collapse of the deal ends any chance of easing the potential diplomatic standoff over Chen's fate ahead of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's participation in economic talks with China on Thursday and Friday.
Chen told the Daily Beast on Thursday that if he had his way he and his family would join Clinton when she returns to the United States after the talks. "My fervent hope is that it would be possible for me and my family to leave for the U.S. on Hillary Clinton’s plane," he said.
The State Department is remaining noncommittal in their role now that Chen wants to leave. Spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that U.S. officials "need to consult [with Chen and his family] further to get a better sense of what they want to do and consider their options."
Wednesday, May 2, 12:15 p.m.: So much for the official story from both U.S. and Chinese officials about Wednesday's deal over dissident Chen Guangcheng.
Chen tells the Associated Press that he agreed to the U.S.-brokered deal only because he was told that Chinese officials had threatened to beat his wife to death had he not left the American Embassy in Beijing, where he had been holed up for much of the past week.
The blind legal activist says that he now has fears for safety and wants to leave China.
A U.S. official denied knowledge of the threats to the AP.
As the BBC notes, Chen's lawyer had previously said that Chen was "happy" about the reported deal that reunited him with his family in China and guaranteed their safety.
Wednesday, May 2: Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng left the U.S. embassy in Beijing on Wednesday after he and the United States received assurances of his safety.
The Associated Press reports that Chen, who had been holed up in the embassy for nearly a week, was escorted by U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke to a local hospital, where he was reunited with his family and will receive medial treatment for an injury he sustained during his escape from house arrest.
Under the agreement between the United States and China, Chen will soon be relocated to a safe place in China, where he'll be allowed to take university classes. U.S. officials say they will also keep tabs on Chen and make sure China follows through on its promises of safety.
Chen is a self-taught lawyer who spent four years in prison and 20 months under house arrest after exposing forced abortions and sterilizations related to China's one-child policy.
Chen spoke to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after leaving for the hospital, who said she was "pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng’s stay and departure from the U.S. embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values," the New York Times reports.
Clinton will begin economic talks on Thursday in China. The Chen controversy had threatened to derail those talks.
Clinton also said that the U.S. sheltered Chen in the embassy on "humanitarian" grounds on a temporary basis, as he was injured from his escape. At the embassy, Chen reportedly reiterated his desire to stay in China and did not seek U.S. asylum, according to U.S. officials.
One of Chen's friends, however, offered a different account, telling the AP that China forced Chen to choose between going into exile alone or staying in China with his family.
China, perhaps worried about its image, has demanded that the United States apologize for sheltering Chen and investigate the circumstances leading to his admittance into the embassy, the AP reports.
Tuesday, May 1: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew to China on Tuesday in the midst of the continued controversy over the escape of a Chinese dissident from house arrest.
The main reason for Clinton's trip to China is for a meeting of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. But, as CNN notes, the escape and reported sheltering of dissident Chen Guangcheng at the U.S. embassy will likely overshadow the economic talks between the two nations.
President Obama and other U.S. officials have refused to comment publicly on Chen's fate. But, as Reuters reports, Clinton promised on Monday to press human rights in her upcoming talks with China's leaders, suggesting that the mounting international tension surrounding Chen's status is unlikely to abate anytime soon.
Monday, April 30: The escape of one of China's best-known dissidents is front-page news in the United States. In China? Not so much.
CNN reports that China's state-run news outlets have largely ignored the story and the country's Internet censors are ramping up efforts to prevent news of Chen Guangcheng's escape to an American embassy from going viral.
Chen's name has long been a banned search term on Sina Wiebo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, and censors have now cracked down on any other terms seen as a potential reference to the activist, including obvious ones like "U.S. embassy" and not-so-obvious ones like mentions of The Shawshank Redemption.
Meanwhile, CBS News reports that U.S. and China officials are prepping for bilateral talks on Thursday, when Chen's fate could be decided. The prominent legal activist is believed to currently be in the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
Saturday, April 28: A blind lawyer who is one of China’s best-known dissidents escaped house arrest in a remote Chinese village and has reportedly sought refuge at the U.S. embassy in Beijing. Neither China nor the United States would confirm or deny the information but a Texas-based group said Saturday that high-level talks are ongoing between the two countries about the fate of Chen Guangcheng, reports the Associated Press.
The turn of events puts the United States in an “awkward position,” as the Washington Post puts it, days before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are scheduled to arrive for talks.
That may be underestimating things. In a piece for CNN, Christopher Johnson writes that “Washington and Beijing may be facing the most tense and delicate moment in their bilateral relationship since the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown” and Chen might just become a symbol for the bilateral disagreements over human rights. Indeed, the New York Times says Chen’s escape is already emboldening China’s dissident movement even as authorities have been actively pursuing those who helped him escape.
Chen, who has long worked to expose forced abortions and sterilizations in China, managed to evade security forces after 19 months of house arrest even though, as the New York Times reports, there are no outstanding charges against him. Chen had reportedly been planning the escape for weeks, and the Washington Post dedicates a separate story to detailing just how a blind man managed to climb a high wall and travel 400 miles to Beijing without being caught.
“His story,” a friend and fellow activist said, “is the Chinese version ofThe Shawshank Redemption. ”
Soon after his escape was made public Friday, a video was released in which Chen addresses Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and details the abuse he and his family have been forced to endure, reports BBC News.
Texas-based ChinaAid is putting pressure on the White House to “stand firmly with [Chen] or risk losing credibility as a defender of freedom and the rule of law.” Although the United States has spoken up about Chen in the past, the escape comes at a delicate time when Washington is looking for China’s support on a number of global issues, points out Reuters.