China allows activist to study abroad

In yet another turn in the diplomatic saga involving Chen Guangcheng, China now says Chen can apply to study abroad, raising hopes that a solution to his case can be reached. The activist escaped house arrest last week to take refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, then moved to a Chinese hospital on Wednesday, overshadowing a visit of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to China.

The incident has put the U.S.-China relations in a diplomatic crisis since Chen’s escape embarrassed Chinese authorities last week. Chen is a blind, self-taught lawyer and a well-known human rights activist in China. After seeking refuge in the U.S. embassy, he left six days later under a deal where he was supposed to be relocated in China to study law, but later changed his mind, saying he wants to go study abroad.

Clinton wrapped up her trip to China Friday without a firm deal on Chen’s situation, but said in a press conference that she was encouraged by the Chinese government’s announcement to allow him to apply to travel abroad to study. On Thursday, Chen called in to a hearing at the U.S. Congress to report his fears for his family and to ask for a face-to-face meeting with Clinton.

From the BBC:

In his call, broadcast live to the Congressional hearing from a mobile phone, he said: “I want to come to the US to rest. I have not had a rest in 10 years.

“I’m most concerned right now with the safety of my mother and brothers. I really want to know what’s going on with them.”

He said villagers who had helped him were “receiving retribution”.

Mr Chen told Rep Chris Smith, who was chairing the hearing at the Congressional commission on China: “I want to meet with Secretary Clinton. I hope I can get more help from her.”

Mr Chen’s supporter and friend, activist Bob Fu, acted as translator.

Mr Chen is in hospital with his wife and children but the building is ringed by police and the BBC’s Damian Grammaticas, who tried to visit on Thursday, said the activist was effectively under detention.

Our correspondent says guards prevented him, as well as lawyers and US diplomats, from reaching Mr Chen.

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