BEIJING — Capping a week of dramatic diplomacy, U.S. officials embraced on Friday a statement from China that blind activist Chen Guangcheng could seek permission to study abroad, saying Chinese officials have promised to quickly process his paperwork so he can leave for the United States.
But the deal — struck less than 24 hours before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was set to depart Beijing — left Chen and U.S. officials in the same position they have been stuck in for days: relying on the word of the Chinese government.
A previous deal reached with Chinese officials Wednesday fell apart within hours, after U.S. diplomats were barred from visiting Chen in Beijing’s Chaoyang hospital. He was taken there after leaving the protection of the U.S. Embassy compound. U.S. diplomats, as well as Chen, thought they had been promised regular and easy access to him.
As with that deal, the new agreement leaves significant obstacles and numerous questions unanswered. In the balance hangs the Obama administration’s record on human rights, which is under heavy criticism, as well as the health of relations between the world’s two leading powers. Most pressingly at stake is the safety of the 40-year-old Chen and his family.
There was evidence Friday to suggest that China may not uphold its end of the bargain, even though allowing Chen to study in the United States could permit Beijing a face-saving way out of the standoff.
Supporters trying to visit Chen at the hospital were roughly turned away, with some saying they were severely beaten by plainclothes police. China’s state-controlled newspapers also launched scathing attacks on Chen and U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, who helped Chen enter the embassy April 26 after his dramatic escape from de facto house arrest in his village in Shandong province. In addition, some of Chen’s allies remain under house arrest.
Related: Chen Guangcheng Phones Into U.S. Congressional Hearing (Video)
- Protect Chen Guangcheng (Petition)
- Chen Guangcheng (Wikipedia profile)