China says dissident may apply to study in U.S

Fri May 4, 2012 10:18pm GMT

By Andrew Quinn and Terril Yue Jones

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Friday that blind dissident Chen Guangcheng could apply to study abroad, a move praised by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and suggesting an end may be near to a diplomatic standoff between Beijing and Washington.

But rights activists sounded a note of caution, saying Beijing could move slowly on granting Chen permisson to leave out of fear that appearing soft might embolden other challengers to Communist Party rule before a power handover late this year.

An announcement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry followed a dramatic and very public appeal by Chen, who spoke by phone to a U.S. congressional hearing on his case and asked to be allowed to spend time in the United States after fleeing 19 months of extra-judicial captivity in his home village.

"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," ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a brief statement, adding that Chen was still being treated in hospital.

Clinton, in Beijing for strategic and economic talks, said the U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Gary Locke, had spoken to Chen again on Friday when he had confirmed he wanted to go to the United States to study, along with his family.

"Over the course of the day, progress has been made to help him have the future that he wants and we will be staying in touch with him as this process moves forward," she said.

"This is not just about well-known activists; it's about the human rights and aspirations of more than a billion people here in China and billions more around the world and it's about the future of this great nation and all nations," Clinton added.

U.S. officials said they now expect American diplomats and doctors to have regular access to Chen, who campaigned against forced abortions under China's "one-child" policy.   Continued...

A handout photo from the U.S. Embassy Beijing Press office shows U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke (L) talking on a mobile phone as he accompanies blind activist Chen Guangcheng (R) in a car, in Beijing, May 2, 2012. Picture taken May 2, 2012. REUTERS/US Embassy Beijing Press Office/Handout
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