Beijing: In a move that could end a diplomatic standoff between Washington and Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday said blind dissident Chen Guangcheng could apply to study abroad.
China’s announcement came after Chen telephoned a US Congressional hearing and expressed his wish to meet visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In a brief statement, ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said, “Chen Guangcheng is currently being treated in hospital...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."
Chen had made a plea for US protection from his hospital bed in Beijing.
In the meantime, Chen told a news agency that his situation is "dangerous”. He also revealed that American officials have been barred from seeing him for two days, adding that his friends who have tried to visit him have been beaten up.
Chen shared his fear for safety with the news agency. "I can only tell you one thing. My situation right now is very dangerous... For two days, American officials who have wanted to come and see me have not been allowed in."
Chinese security agents have sealed the hospital.
Chen last week escaped his rural home where local officials had kept him under house arrest for years. He made it to the US embassy, where he stayed for six days before the US and China reached a deal that would allow him to stay in China but in a new location, as he had requested. But hours after leaving the embassy on Wednesday he said he and his family would not be safe unless they left the country.
A self-taught lawyer, the 40-year-old Chen became an international human rights figure and inspiration to many ordinary Chinese after running afoul of local government officials for exposing forced abortions and sterilizations carried out as part of China's one-child policy. Until his escape last week, his nearly seven years in prison and abusive house arrest with his wife, six-year-old daughter and mother fuelled outrage and added to his stature — and in turn upped the stakes for Washington in helping him.
The issue has cast a shadow over this week's visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for talks intended to improve ties between the two countries.
On Friday, she told Chinese President Hu Jintao that the ties between the US and China were the strongest they had ever been.
But China has publicly ridiculed US meddling in the issue.
Accusing Chen of being a pawn of American subversion of Communist Party power, one of China's main official newspapers described US Ambassador Gary Locke as a backpack-wearing, Starbucks-sipping troublemaker.
"Chen Guangcheng has become a tool and a pawn for American politicians to blacken China," the Beijing Daily was quoted as saying by a news agency.
(With Agencies’ inputs)
First Published: Friday, May 04, 2012, 12:51