Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng's high-profile pleas for U.S. sanctuary upped the pressure Friday on Washington and Beijing to resolve his fate, with China saying he could apply to study abroad.
Robert S. Wang, center, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, walks with an unidentified U.S. embassy staff outside the hospital where blind activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng is recuperating in Beijing Friday, May 4, 2012. The blind Chinese activist at the center of a diplomatic standoff between the United States and China said Friday his situation is "dangerous," and that American officials have been blocked from seeing him for two days and friends who have tried to visit have been beaten up.
The slight concession, offered in a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement, pointed to a possible way out of the diplomatic standoff. Even so, he remained in a guarded Beijing hospital ward, unable to see U.S. officials. His wife's movements are being monitored, he said, and the couples with their two children feel in danger.
"I can only tell you one thing. My situation right now is very dangerous," Chen said. "For two days, American officials who have wanted to come and see me have not been allowed in."
A self-taught lawyer and symbol in China's civil rights movement, Chen embroiled Washington and Beijing in their most delicate diplomatic crisis in years after he escaped house arrest and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy last week. He left six days later under a negotiated deal in which he and his family was to be safely relocated in China. But he then upended the agreement by saying they wanted to go abroad.
Since his release to a Beijing hospital where he was reunited with his wife, son and daughter, Chen's calls to The Associated Press, other foreign media and friends have resonated around the world, and even become part of Washington politics in a presidential election year.
On Thursday, he called in to a congressional hearing in Washington, telling lawmakers he wanted to meet U.S. Secretary of State Clinton, who is in Beijing for annual security talks.
"I hope I can get more help from her," Chen said.
While publicly Washington has said little and Beijing has shown little inclination to budge, contacts have taken place. Clinton met Chinese President Hu Jintao and other top leaders, though officials declined to say if Chen's case was discussed. The Foreign Ministry statement was among the first signs of progress. In it, a spokesman said Chen as a normal citizen may apply to study overseas.
"Chen Guangcheng is currently being treated in hospital. As a Chinese citizen, if he wants to study abroad he can go through the normal channels to the relevant departments and complete the formalities in accordance with the law like other Chinese citizens," the statement said without elaborating. At a later briefing spokesman Liu Weimin declined to elaborate.
While the statement only reiterates the normal rights of a Chinese citizen, it underscored the government's openness to letting him go and that Chen faces no criminal charges. Though he has lived under arrest at his rural home along with his family for 20 months, his treatment has appeared to be the retribution of local officials angry at Chen's activism.
Chen has exposed forced abortions and other abuses in his community as part of China's population controls.