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Chinese Dissident Chen Guangcheng Offered Fellowship to Study in U.S.

May 4, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to China, as Washington and Beijing made progress on a deal to get an activist who suddenly became an internationally known figure out of the country.

Ray Suarez has the story.

RAY SUAREZ: As police officers remained on guard outside the Beijing hospital where Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng remains in treatment, the blind lawyer’s wish to come to America received a positive signal from the Chinese government.

After three days of behind-the-scenes talks, Chen will now be allowed to pursue a visa to study abroad. He’s been offered a post as a visiting scholar at New York University.

The concession was announced by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin.

LIU WEIMIN, spokesman, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (through translator): Chen Guangcheng, as a Chinese citizen, like other citizens, can apply to study abroad by normal means, and can go through the relevant procedures with the relevant departments. I have no further information.

RAY SUAREZ: This seemed to point to a quick close to the eight-day diplomatic crisis that threatened to sour U.S.-China relations, and all but eclipse a visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, as evidenced by a Q&A with journalists in Beijing today.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, it won’t surprise you, I think, to get the questions that you’re about to get from me, which all have to do with the elephant in the room that’s been dogging us.

RAY SUAREZ: For the first time since arriving in China, after two days of strategic talks, Clinton spoke publicly about Chen.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Let me start by saying that, from the beginning, all of our efforts with Mr. Chen have been guided by his choices and our values.

In that regard, we are also encouraged by the official statement issued today by the Chinese government confirming that he can apply to travel abroad for this purpose. 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.

RAY SUAREZ: A previous deal between the U.S. and China to end Chen’s house arrest and allow him to relocate to study in a Chinese university town imploded on Wednesday after Chen told foreign media, in a series of emotional cell phone calls from his hospital room, he feared for his safety and wanted to go abroad.

He spoke to the Associated Press by telephone this morning before the deal was announced.

CHEN GUANGCHENG, Chinese dissident (through translator): Let me tell you, I can only tell you one thing. My situation right now is very dangerous. Let me tell you why. For two days, American officials who have wanted to come and see me have not been allowed in.

RAY SUAREZ: U.S. Embassy staff and an American doctor were allowed to meet with him today.

But even as Secretary Clinton left China, there are still obstacles to getting Chen out of China, though U.S. officials say they’re ready to grant him and his family visas as soon the Chinese process his application.