Hospitalized dissident awaits permission to leave China
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng remained largely out of contact in a Beijing hospital on Sunday as diplomats kept up contacts with authorities over how he might leave China and travel to study in the United States.
Chen arrived at the Chaoyang Hospital last week from the U.S. embassy, where he had taken refuge after a dramatic escape from 19 months under house arrest in his home village.
The fate of the blind, 40-year old activist over-shadowed a visit to Beijing last week by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and threatened to complicate already difficult U.S.-China relations.
China's Foreign Ministry made an apparent concession on Friday, saying Chen could apply to study abroad. Reuters last spoke to Chen that evening.
The U.S. Embassy said on Sunday U.S. officers had visited Chen's wife on Saturday at the hospital, and remained in contact with the family and with Chinese officials dealing with the case. The embassy declined to elaborate on any negotiations.
Human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who said he was recovering from ear injuries after security agents struck him following an attempt to visit the hospital, told Reuters he had spoken to Chen on Saturday afternoon.
"We mostly discussed his health and his situation. He is feeling optimistic," said Jiang, who is barred from leaving his apartment.
Jiang said Chen had told him Chinese leaders had contacted him about his case. Jiang did not say which leaders.
The U.S. embassy had earlier thought it had a deal to allow Chen to stay in China without retribution but it fell apart as Chen grew worried about his family's safety. He changed his mind about staying in China and asked to travel to the United States.
Human rights are a major factor in relations between China and the United States even though the United States needs China's help on issues such as Iran, North Korea, Sudan and the fragile global economy.
U.S. President Barack Obama would face election-year criticism at home if the United States was seen as failing to ensure the dissident's safety. At the same time, China has accused the United States of meddling in its affairs.
Journalists have set up a stakeout across the street from the Chaoyang Hospital where Chen is being treated for a foot injury sustained during his escape on April 22 from his rural home in Shandong province.
About a dozen foreign correspondents who followed a U.S. embassy car into hospital grounds were summoned by the public security office for violating regulations and told their visas could be revoked, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China on Saturday.
The ruling Communist Party's top newspaper, the People's Daily, carried a notice on Sunday saying all major hospitals must establish police bureaus to "administer law and order".
The newspaper did not refer to Chen's case or the hospital where he has been staying but cited an "urgent notice" posted by the Ministry of Health on Friday.
Chen is in a hospital VIP building which journalists have been prevented from entering. The hospital treats an average of 10,000 people a day and ordinary patients can enter main buildings freely.
Over the past couple of days, the government has not repeated earlier denunciation of U.S. involvement in the case, in what could be a sign that the deal on letting Chen travel to the United States may stick.
Chen, who campaigned against forced abortions under China's "one-child" policy, has been offered a fellowship by New York University, where he can be joined by his family.
The Chinese government still needs to grant Chen and his family passports and exit visas. Under Chinese regulations, that entails doing the paperwork in one's hometown.
There had been worry about Chen's friends and fellow activists who helped him escape from his home and travel to the U.S. embassy in Beijing but there was good news about one of them.
Activist He Peirong, who helped drive Chen to Beijing, was released from detention after several days on Friday, she said on Twitter.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)