Beijing, May 6 – The US law professor who has advised Chen Guangcheng says that the blind Chinese activist may go to the United States “soon”, as Washington waits to see if Beijing honours a deal to let him leave.
Chen is at the centre of a major diplomatic wrangle between China and the United States after he dramatically escaped harsh house arrest in the eastern province of Shandong and sought refuge at the US embassy in Beijing.
He left the diplomatic mission on Wednesday after being holed up inside for six days, but later had a change of heart, saying he wanted to depart for the United States for his safety and that of his wife and two young children.
China’s foreign ministry said on Friday that he would be allowed to apply to study abroad, signalling then-visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had secured a deal with the Chinese government.
Chen, 40, a self-taught lawyer, is believed to still be in a Beijing hospital being treated for injuries sustained during his escape from his village home, where he says he was kept under constant surveillance and beaten.
“It’s conceivable he could be here quite soon,” Jerome Cohen, a New York University law professor who is a friend and adviser to Chen, told AFP by telephone from his US home.
“I’m hoping it’s a done deal. I was very excited when I saw the announcement by the foreign ministry spokesman on Friday afternoon,” he said.
“That’s an open signal that they are prepared to let him come abroad for a period of study,” said Cohen late Saturday, who spoke to Chen twice before he left the US embassy but not since.
The hospital Sunday declined to confirm if Chen was still there and a spokesman for the US embassy could not be reached for comment. Chen, who Thursday spoke to US lawmakers from hospital, could not be reached by phone.
But the entrances of the Chaoyang Hospital compound remained tightly guarded by uniformed police and the wary authorities kept journalists in a designated area outside, an AFP photographer witnessed.
Chen infuriated Beijing after he exposed forced abortions, some late in pregnancy, and sterilisations under the “one-child” policy. He defied pressure to stay silent after a four-year jail term that ended in 2010.
A spokesman for New York University (NYU) said Friday that Chen had been invited to study there.
If he decides to take up the offer, Chen would be a visiting scholar at the NYU law school with a programme of study and lecture, Cohen said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he got here within a week. But if it takes a month, it doesn’t matter and it wouldn’t surprise me either,” Cohen said.
The Chinese government would need to issue passports to Chen and his immediate family members, who are expected to leave with him, as well as give them permission to leave, Cohen said.
The US could expedite visas for them, he added.
US officials appeared to be keeping the details, including a timescale, of the agreement with Beijing deliberately vague, fearing that it would fall through if China felt embarrassed on its home soil.
The US State Department said it expected China to move “expeditiously” to grant Chen a passport.