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China says Dissident Chen Guangcheng Can Apply to Study Abroad

Stephanie Ho

May 4, 2012

Chinese officials say blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng is free to apply to go overseas if he wants to. The still developing case of the dissident, who left the U.S. Embassy earlier this week, has overshadowed high-level annual talks between American and Chinese officials.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin's comments Friday seemed to indicate some softening of the Chinese government's position on Chen Guangcheng.

Liu says if Chen wants to study abroad, he may apply according to relevant procedures and through the same channels as any other Chinese citizen.

In answer to a question about whether China has received the apology it had demanded from the United States, Liu said Beijing notes that Washington takes its concerns and demands seriously.

Chen is currently being treated at a Beijing hospital for a foot injury. Last month, he made a daring escape from heavily-guarded house arrest in Shandong province and then last week, he stunned the world by turning up at the U.S. Embassy.

He left the American mission on Wednesday, one day before high-level U.S.-China talks, and was escorted to a local hospital. He initially wanted to remain in China, but he later told supporters and foreign reporters that he has changed his mind, and now wants to go overseas.

Chen underscored his intention to go abroad “to rest,” in telephone testimony to a U.S. Congressional hearing in Washington Thursday.

Chinese artist activist Ai Weiwei, who disappeared into detention several months last year, says he believes the situation for Chen is precarious if he stays in the country.

He says all parties involved, both the U.S. and Chinese governments, are in an awkward situation, which he says causes a severely unsafe situation for Chen and his family.

Ai says he believes Chen may have wanted to stay in China, but has become terrified after talking to friends and family.

Ai points to Chen's most recent comments, “I want to leave this place, not leave China but just go abroad and be cured for some time.” The artist says he believes Chen is not asking for political asylum, but wants to go abroad for awhile, which he adds should be rational and legal for any free Chinese citizen.

Ai admiringly calls Chen “a mouse,” and points out that this ordinary person has suffered so much and carried what he describes as a big burden for the cause of human rights in China.

Chen is a 40-year-old self-taught legal activist. He helped expose forced abortions and sterilizations by Chinese family planning authorities and served four years in jail.

Since he was freed in September 2010, plainclothes thugs have confined him and his family to his home in rural Shandong, and beaten him and his family members.

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