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Legal activist arrives in US after rushed exit from China

Chen Guangcheng and his family were suddenly allowed to leave China on Saturday after a weeks-long diplomatic tussle between Washington and Beijing.

Chen Guancheng arriving in New York.
Chen Guancheng arriving in New York.
Image: AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams/PA

A BLIND CHINESE activist who escaped house arrest, endured a month-long diplomatic tussle and a hurried flight paused briefly upon his arrival in New York City before taking up a familiar fight.

Taken from a hospital in his homeland and put on a plane for the US after Chinese authorities suddenly told him on Saturday to pack and prepare to leave, Chen Guangcheng embraced his new surroundings at New York University and renewed his call to fight injustice.

“I believe that no matter how difficult the environment nothing is impossible if you put your heart to it,” he told a cheering crowd at NYU shortly after arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport on Saturday evening.

“We should link our arms to continue in the fight for the goodness in the world and to fight against injustice. So, I think that all people should apply themselves to this end to work for the common good worldwide.”


(Video uploaded by AssociatedPress)

Chen was suddenly allowed to leave China earlier in the day, ending a dispute that tested US-China relations.

Dressed in a white shirt and khaki pants and using crutches, his right leg in a cast, Chen was greeted with cheers when he arrived at the apartment in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village where he will live with his family. The complex houses faculty and graduate students of New York University, where Chen is expected to attend law school.

“For the past seven years, I have never had a day’s rest,” Chen said through a translator, “so I have come here for a bit of recuperation for body and in spirit.”

Chen thanked the US and Chinese governments, along with the embassies of Switzerland, Canada and France.

The departure of Chen, his wife and two children to the United States marked the conclusion of nearly a month of uncertainty and years of mistreatment by local authorities for the self-taught activist.

Chen gained recognition for crusading for the disabled and for farmers’ rights and fighting against forced abortions in his rural community. That angered local officials, who seemed to wage a personal vendetta against him, convicting him in 2006 on what his supporters say were fabricated charges and then holding him for the past 20 months in illegal house arrest.

After seven years of prison and house arrest, Chen made a daring escape from his rural village in April and was given sanctuary inside the US Embassy, triggering a diplomatic standoff over his fate.

With Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Beijing for annual high-level discussions, officials struck a deal that let Chen walk free, only to see him have second thoughts. That forced new negotiations that led to an agreement to send him to the US to study law, a goal of his, at New York University.

“Thousands of thoughts are surging to my mind,” Chen said before he left China. His concerns, he said, included whether authorities would retaliate for his negotiated departure by punishing his relatives left behind. It also was unclear whether the government will allow him to return.

“Chen’s departure for the US does not and should not in any way mark a ‘mission accomplished’ moment for the US government,” said Phelim Kine, a senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The harder, longer-term part is ensuring his right under international law to return to China when he sees fit.”

Chen’s expected attendance at New York University comes from his association with Jerome Cohen, a law professor there who advised Chen while he was in the US Embassy. The two met when Chen came to the United States on a State Department program in 2003, and Cohen has been staunch advocate for him since.

Before leaving China, Chen asked his supporters and others in the activist community for their understanding of his desire to leave the frontlines of the rights struggle in China.

“I am requesting a leave of absence, and I hope that they will understand,” he said.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland praised the quiet negotiations that freed him.

“We also express our appreciation for the manner in which we were able to resolve this matter and to support Mr. Chen’s desire to study in the US and pursue his goals,” Nuland said in a statement.

The White House also said it was pleased with the outcome of negotiations.

China’s Foreign Ministry said it had no comment. The government’s news agency, Xinhua, issued a brief report saying that Chen “has applied for study in the United States via normal channels in line with the law.”

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Associated Press

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