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Asia-pacific

Chinese dissident Chen begins new life in US

Latest update : 2012-05-20

Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng arrived in New York City on Saturday, a month after sparking a diplomatic crisis between the two countries by escaping house arrest and taking refuge at the US embassy in Beijing.

AFP - Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng began his new life in the United States on Sunday after a warm welcome but in Beijing he leaves behind a diplomatic mess that may prevent him ever returning home.

Chen, a self-taught lawyer, landed in New York with his wife and two young children on Saturday to a rapturous reception from his hosts and he quickly praised the "restraint and calm," shown by the Chinese government in his case.

The 40-year-old, who is to become a research fellow at New York University's School of Law, has repeatedly said he is not seeking exile in the United States and may one day want to go back to China.

But the Chinese government's decision to allow a convicted citizen to leave its territory just weeks after he managed to flee house arrest and caused them huge international embarrassment is unlikely to be forgotten, analysts said.

"It will be very difficult," retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang told AFP. "The authorities will not welcome him back.

"He brought on diplomatic turmoil and became a focus of the international press."

One of China's best-known activists, Chen won praise for investigating forced sterilizations and late-term abortions under China's "one-child" family planning policy.

He served over four years in prison and on his release from jail in 2010, he was subjected to house arrest in his home village in eastern China.

But he made a dramatic escape in April, eventually securing sanctuary at the US embassy in Beijing in a step that prompted a diplomatic furor.

Chinese and American diplomats scrambled to find a solution to let the noted dissident stay in China and he left the embassy but he regretted it almost immediately, telling journalists that he wanted to go to the United States.

After being holed up for more than two weeks at a Beijing hospital with his fate still uncertain, Chen was suddenly given notice to pack up his belongings and prepare for departure to New York.

After landing, Chen, his wife Yuan Weijing and their two young children were greeted with cheers on arrival at the university apartment block in Manhattan that now becomes their home.

Other leading activists who have trod Chen's path include the dissident Wei Jingsheng, who left China in 1997 on medical parole in a deal brokered by the United States, and Christian activist Bob Fu, a close friend and supporter of Chen who now lives in Texas.

Past cases suggest Chinese leaders will be reluctant to allow a man like Chen whose activism presented them with diplomatic and domestic hurdles to come home.

China's communist rulers remain perturbed that civil unrest could blight its rise as a political and economic power and has barred the return of numerous activists linked to the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests and the Falungong spiritual group that Beijing outlawed in 1999.

"Getting Chen Guangcheng and his family on a plane is the easiest part of this saga," said Phelim Kine, Asia researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"The harder, longer term part is ensuring his right under international law to return to China when he sees fit."

China's official explanation for agreeing to allow Chen to go abroad was so that he could study in accordance with his rights as a Chinese citizen.

But Beijing-based rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong said the authorities would think twice about letting Chen return -- even though the government is obliged under international law to allow its citizens back into the country.

"Under the current political climate, I doubt the government will allow him to return," he said.

US politicians welcomed Chen's arrival but many also expressed concern about his family and other dissidents who remain in China fearing repression.

 

Date created : 2012-05-20

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