US, China forge tentative deal on Chinese activist

Associated Press Modified: May 4, 2012 at 10:47 am •  Published: May 3, 2012
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BEIJING (AP) — The U.S. and China forged the outlines of a deal Friday to end a diplomatic standoff over legal activist Chen Guangcheng that would let him travel to the U.S. with his family for a university fellowship.

After days of behind-the-scenes talks, reversals and emotional calls by Chen from a guarded hospital room, the U.S. and China made a series of announcements signaling a logjam had been broken.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Chen may apply for travel permits to study abroad. An American University has offered Chen a fellowship with provisions for his family, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, adding that the U.S. expects Beijing to quickly process their travel permits, after which U.S. visas would be granted.

"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," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said speaking to reporters after two days of annual strategic talks in Beijing.

The deal, if tentative, showed renewed resolve by Washington and Beijing to end one of their most delicate diplomatic crises in years.

Dealing with Chen's case quickly allows the governments to focus on managing the larger irritants over trade, Syria, Iran and North Korea that bedevil relations between the world's largest economies, one a superpower, the other its up-and-coming rival.

A blind, self-taught lawyer and symbol in China's civil rights movement, Chen triggered the standoff after he escaped abusive house arrest in his rural town and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing last week.

He left six days later under a negotiated deal in which he and his family were to be reunited at a hospital and then safely relocated in China so he can formally study law. But he then upended the agreement by saying they wanted to go abroad.

Obstacles to getting Chen out of China remain. Key among then is whether he would have to return to his home county in Shandong province to apply for a passport. Though a usual procedure, it would potentially expose him to retribution from the local officials who kept him and his family under brutal house arrest for his activism that exposed forced abortions and other misdeeds.

After emerging from the embassy and arriving at Chaoyang Hospital on Wednesday for treatment of an injury, Chen said he had no further direct contact with U.S. officials for nearly two days, fueling a sense of abandonment and fears about the safety of him, his wife and two children.

"I can only tell you one thing. My situation right now is very dangerous," Chen said told The Associated Press earlier Friday.

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