* China says Chen can apply to study abroad
* Chen invited to be visiting scholar at NYU Law School
* China move follows Chen's appeal to go to U.S.
* Republicans criticise Obama's handling of the case
By Andrew Quinn and Terril Yue Jones
BEIJING, May 4 China said on Friday that blind
dissident Chen Guangcheng could apply to study abroad, a move
praised by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and
suggesting an end may be near to a diplomatic standoff between
Beijing and Washington.
But rights activists sounded a note of caution, saying
Beijing could move slowly on granting Chen permisson to leave
out of fear that appearing soft might embolden other challengers
to Communist Party rule before a power handover late this year.
An announcement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry followed a
dramatic and very public appeal by Chen, who spoke by phone to a
U.S. congressional hearing on his case and asked to be allowed
to spend time in the United States after fleeing 19 months of
extra-judicial captivity in his home village.
"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," ministry spokesman Liu
Weimin said in a brief statement, adding that Chen was still
being treated in hospital.
Clinton, in Beijing for strategic and economic talks, said
the U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Gary Locke, had spoken to Chen
again on Friday when he had confirmed he wanted to go to the
United States to study, along with his family.
"Over the course of the day, progress has been made to help
him have the future that he wants and we will be staying in
touch with him as this process moves forward," she said.
"This is not just about well-known activists; it's about the
human rights and aspirations of more than a billion people here
in China and billions more around the world and it's about the
future of this great nation and all nations," Clinton added.
U.S. officials said they now expect American diplomats and
doctors to have regular access to Chen, who campaigned against
forced abortions under China's "one-child" policy.
They also said that checks had shown that Chen had three
broken bones from his escape, and his foot was put in a cast.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Chen had
been offered a fellowship by a U.S. university, where he can be
joined by his wife and two children. Ne w York University said it
had invited Chen to be a visiting scholar at its law school.
Nuland also said Washington expected Beijing to deal quickly
with Chen's application to travel abroad. "The United States
government would then give visa requests for him and his
immediate family priority attention," she said in a statement.
While some activists said China could drag its feet on Chen,
Bob Fu of the Texas-based advocacy group ChinaAid said in a
statement on Friday that "Chen is so widely popular now, Beijing
probably wants him in New York as soon as possible."
The crisis erupted on April 22, after Chen made a dramatic
escape from his rural home, where he was effectively under house
arrest, and made his way to Beijing and sought refuge at the
He stayed there for six days until Wednesday when U.S.
officials took him to a Beijing hospital after assurances from
the Chinese government that he and his family would receive
better treatment and could move out of Shandong province, where
rights activists said they had suffered surveillance and abuse.
But within hours, Chen, 40, had changed his mind, scuppering
what had seemed to be a delicately constructed deal between
Chinese and U.S. diplomats to allow him to receive treatment for
a broken foot, and be reunited with his wife and children.
Chen, in translated comments, also told the congressional
that villagers who had helped him were "receiving retribution"
and he was most concerned about the safety of his mother and
"Chen's frail mother remains detained, his brother Chen
Guangfu and nephew Chen Kegui will be sentenced, and the
netizens who helped Chen escape, like He "Pearl" Pierong, still
face charges," ChinaAid, the main source of information about
Chen while he was at the U.S. Embassy, said in a statement.
The issue cast a shadow over this week's visit to Beijing by
Clinton for talks intended to improve ties between the world's
two biggest economies.
Despite the friction, a U.S. official said China would raise
foreign ownership limits in domestic joint-venture securities
firms and allow them to trade commodities and financial futures
in a move to further liberalise capital markets. Treasury
Secretary Timothy Geithner said China had also made significant
reforms to its currency regime, long a bone of contention.
Clinton told Chinese President Hu Jintao ties were the
strongest they had ever been. Nevertheless, Beijing has accused
the United States of meddling in its affairs in the Chen case.
Chinese human rights lawyer Tang Jitian cautioned that the
authorities could easily hold up the paperwork to delay Chen's
departure from China. China's security forces might not be as
keen as its diplomats for a quick exit.
"How it will play out we don't know. For instance, getting
the approval for the paperwork to go, there are many potential
pitfalls," said Tang. "We can't be 100-percent optimistic."
U.S. officials said they did not know when Chen might leave
but said they had no reason to believe it would be this weekend.
The Obama administration has come under criticism for its
handling of the matter, particularly from Republicans such as
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
"U.S. officials made a mistake by escorting Chen away from
the safety of the U.S. embassy and into an uncertain fate," she
said. "The State Department must press China to carry out its
commitments. We cannot assume that this saga has been resolved."
Congressmen Chris Smith and Frank Wolf, both Republicans,
hope to grill senior U.S. officials as soon as next week.
Chen himself was attacked by one of China's main official
newspapers, which accused him of being a pawn of U.S. subversion
of Communist Party power and described U.S. Ambassador 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 said.
The dissident's village remained under lockdown. Guards
chased away two Reuters reporters who attempted to enter the
village on Friday. The four heavy-set guards ran slowly, yelling
at the reporters as their car drove away.
The Chen case comes at a tricky time for China, which is
engaged in a leadership change. The carefully choreographed
transition has already been knocked out of step by the downfall
of ambitious senior Communist Party official Bo Xilai in a
scandal linked to the apparent murder of a British businessman.