China and US still disputing fate of blind dissident

Sat, May 5, 2012, 01:00

CHINA AND the United States were still locked in diplomatic confrontation yesterday over the fate of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng.

However, signs of a breakthrough emerged after Beijing indicated that the human rights activist might be allowed go overseas. The foreign ministry indicated earlier in the day that Mr Chen could apply to study abroad, which has been a key demand of his since changing his mind about a deal which would have meant staying in China with safety guarantees.

Mr Chen rejected the arrangement because he was worried about what might befall his wife and two children.

“Chen Guangcheng is currently being treated in hospital,” said ministry spokesman Liu Weimin. “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.”

At the Chaoyang hospital, where Mr Chen spent a second day, there was a heavy police presence and the street was partially blocked off.

US diplomats were prevented from entering and Mr Chen’s supporters said they had been roughed up when trying to get in to see him.

Secretary of state Hillary Clinton and treasury secretary Timothy Geithner left China after the annual China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which was overshadowed by the dissident saga. The US delegation left without any resolution on Chen’s future.

US-Sino relations have been tense since the blind activist sought sanctuary in the US embassy last week after his flight from house arrest in Shandong province.

He stayed at the US mission for six days until Wednesday when US officials took him to a Beijing hospital for treatment for his foot, which was broken during his escape.

Mrs Clinton said US ambassador Gary Locke had spoken to Mr Chen yesterday when he confirmed he wanted to go to the US to study, along with his family.

“This is not just about well-known activists. It’s about . . . the future of this great nation and all nations,” she added.

The state department said Mr Chen had been offered a fellowship from an American university, where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children.

Another reason China may have taken a rigid stance is that the row comes against the backdrop of a leadership transition this year and follows a destabilising purge involving former Chongqing Communist Party supremo Bo Xilai, whose wife has been linked to the mysterious death of British businessman Neil Heywood.