Blind Chinese Dissident, Chen Guangcheng, Leaves US Embassy

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. It looked like a US-China diplomatic crisis had been avoided earlier today, now there's confusion over the fate of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. Chen had been sheltered by the US Embassy in Beijing after six days after escaping from house arrest, but today he left the embassy and was escorted to a hospital by US Ambassador Gary Locke. Word was he refused asylum and wanted to stay in China, but then Chen reportedly changed his mind and now wants to leave. Meanwhile, China is demanding an apology from the United States for its role in the case. In a moment we'll discuss the impact on US-China relations with President Obama's former point man on China, but first we're going to unravel the day's events with The World's Beijing correspondent, Mary Kay Magistad. She's with us in Boston, and Mary Kay, first of all, briefly remind us, who is Chen Guangcheng and how did he end up at the US Embassy?

Mary Kay Magistad: So, Chen is a self-taught lawyer from Shandong Province in eastern China and he has, for years, been advocating on behalf of women who had been forcibly sterilized or forced to have late-term abortions so that local officials could claim success with their family planning quotas. He was put in prison for four years. When he got out he should have been free but the local officials decided to put him on unofficial house arrest with thugs surrounding his home, occasionally entering the home and beating up him and his wife and his mother, not allowing his six year old daughter to go to school. After enduring this for a couple of years he feigned illness for a while so that they would lower their guard, escaped at night, and fled to Beijing with some help from other activists.

Werman: So where is he now and where is his family?

Magistad: At last notice he was in Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing, in central Beijing and his family was with him. He hadn't seen his 10 year old son for a couple of years so there was a nice family reunion there, but after leaving the US Embassy he appears to have gotten a little spooked. He seems to have thought that US officials, US diplomats, would be staying with him longer than they did. They said they would accompany him from the Embassy to the hospital and they did that, but then they left. Then there were plainclothes Chinese police around and people he was talking to, friends of his who are also activists, who have also served time in prison, they're telling him, you know, it's not necessarily safe for him. The Chinese government makes promises but you know, who knows if they're going to keep him. So now he's saying, you know, actually I'm not so sure I do want to stay. Maybe I want to leave.

Werman: I mean, it seemed initially today as if some kind of deal was struck that satisfied China, the US, and Chen. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who's in Beijing said the deal "Reflected his choices and our values". What was the plan that was so supported by the US?

Magistad: It's a little hazy, but the plan seems to be that the Chinese government agreed that he and his family, instead of returning to their home village in Shandong, where the thugs are awaiting them, could stay in Beijing or somewhere else in China, that he could have access to higher education. He could study law. He was self-taught, so this would be a new thing for him, and that his safety would be more or less ensured, although there were no details released about how that would be guaranteed. For most Chinese citizens, most of the time, they live a pretty safe life. I mean, when you have problems is when you're an activist, challenging the way the Chinese government or Chinese public security does things. He's done that. Other lawyers in China who have taken an activist role, trying to take on civil rights cases, have had a terrible time over the last year and a half. I think he's recognizing as he talks to more people now that he's out and free that there's a very tense environment right now in China to do the kind of work he'd like to do.

Werman: I mean, Mary Kay, you've seen all sorts of ups and downs in China since you've covered this big country, this story that is China. What is it like watching this particular episode unfold?

Magistad: Well, extraordinarily daring on the part of Chen Guangcheng and, you know, giving the Chinese government a real challenge at a really interesting moment, when there's been a lot of talk about, you know, we need to move in the direction of more political reform, away from the battle days and here's a chance for them to walk the walk, but it's not really clear how much they're going to walk the walk.

Werman: The World's Beijing correspondent, Mary Kay Magistad. Thanks very much.

Magistad: Thank you Marco.