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China Says Activist Chen Can Apply For Study Abroad

5/4/2012 4:48 AM ET

The Chinese government has said that activist Chen Guangcheng, who reportedly said he fears for his life and wants to leave China hours after leaving his refuge in the U.S. Embassy, can apply to study abroad.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a press release on Friday that the 40-year-old blind legal activist may apply to study abroad "according to laws with relevant departments and through the same channels as other Chinese citizens."

China's official news agency Xinhua said Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin made the remarks in response to a question about media reports that Chen hopes to study abroad.

Beijing made the move that would ease diplomatic tensions between the two countries hours before high-level U.S.-China talks coming to a close in the country's capital on Friday.

Speaking at the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had reminded Chinese government of its responsibility to protect human rights.

Clinton made it clear that making a number of commitments by the Chinese government on Chen's future, including the opportunity to pursue higher education in a safe environment, "a reality is the next crucial task."

U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke told Western media that the U.S. diplomatic mission in that country was "able to get the Chinese government to offer an unprecedented package of care for Chen - family reunification. He hadn't seen his son in over two years. They were going to give him a full scholarship at one of seven universities of his choosing with full housing and living expenses for him and his family, and they would conduct an investigation of the abuses that he had suffered."

The U.S. envoy denied reports that Chen was pressured to leave the U.S. Embassy and remain in China, saying that during his days-long stay in the Embassy, he always said he wanted to stay in China.

When a reporter quoted Chen as saying that he now feels abandoned by the U.S. government, Locke replied that "we have always been there with him. Again, we went out using extraordinary measures to pick him up and bring him into the Embassy. If he had stayed in the Embassy, his family still would have been in the village where they have suffered abuse. And so he was always focused on family reunification, moving away from the village, starting a new life with a college education and an investigation of the abuses that he suffered. We were able to secure that for him."

When Chen's reported statement that "he wants to be on the plane with Hillary; he wants the President and Hillary to basically come to his rescue" was brought to his attention, Locke said, "obviously it's apparent that he must have had some sort of change of heart. And we need to sit down with him and talk with him and his family, discuss what it is that he wants, and discuss all the options. And we'll take it from there."

The U.S. diplomat said Chen's wife came out of the hospital on Thursday to meet with his deputy. The Embassy personnel have had two conversations with Chen, in which "they've indicated to us, apparently, this change of heart," Locke told correspondents of various American news channels in separate interviews.

Chen is currently undergoing treatment at a Beijing hospital for a foot injury incurred during his escape from 19 months of unlawful detention in his home village of Dongshigu in Shandong province on April 22. Locke and other senior American officials accompanied Chen to the hospital following his emergence after six days of hiding at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Chinese police have sealed the Chaoyang Hospital, where media as well as U.S. officials have been denied access to Chen's room, reports say.

China on Wednesday had demanded an apology from the United States for taking a Chinese citizen "via abnormal means" into its Embassy in Beijing.

The United States made it clear it has no intention to apologize, with State Department spokesman Mark Toner saying at a daily briefing, "We saw our actions as lawful in this case and in keeping with our values."

Chen had earned the wrath of the Chinese authorities by exposing forced abortions and sterilizations of women who violated the Communist State's "one-child" policy.

by RTT Staff Writer

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