Dissident Deal: Chen Guangcheng to be Allowed to Leave China to Study

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. It is the story that's dominated the news all week, the case of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. When he left the protection of the US embassy in Beijing on Wednesday he said he wanted to stay in China. A deal had been reached allowing him to do so, but Chen quickly changed his mind, voicing concern for the safety of his family. Now it seems a new deal has been struck. Chinese authorities announced today that Chen can apply to leave the country to study, and the state department said a university has offered Chen a fellowship, but after all the twists and turns in this case there's room for skepticism. The BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing says the final outcome is far from certain.

Martin Patience: This isn't a done deal yet. The Chinese officials have said that he can apply; they haven't said that application would necessarily be successful, although certainly US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that progress had been made on the case. She welcomed the decision by the Chinese authorities to allow him to apply and as spokeswoman for the state department that she hoped the Chinese authorities would push through that application quickly. So this is the outline for a deal, but this deal hasn't been done as of yet.

Werman: So what kind of guarantees can the US get from China that would ensure that this deal goes through?

Patience: I think it is significant that China's Foreign Minister put out a statement on this issue saying that he could apply to study overseas, and it signaled that perhaps they were more willing to allow him to go overseas in order to provide a kind of face-saving solution to what has become a real crisis for China as well as the US, particularly for the US, I think.

Werman: Would you say, Martin, that China blinked here?

Patience: No, I don't think China did blink here. I think that Beijing was embarrassed when Mr. Cheng had appeared at the US embassy, but ever since then I think Beijing's strategy, if you like, has been in some ways it's got nothing to lose out of this case. I think it's America that is really struggled on this issue, particularly Hillary Clinton. You have to remember that previously she's spoken out publicly about Mr. Cheng's case, calling on Chinese authorities to release him from house arrest. On Wednesday when this deal was being done, Hillary Clinton as well as other American diplomats spoke about this deal in glowing terms. Mrs. Clinton also said that they would engage with Mr. Cheng and his family on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Well, I was just down at the hospital where Mr. Cheng is receiving medical treatment and the deputy ambassador of the American embassy, he wasn't allowed into the building.

Werman: Martin, what pressure will come to bear on the Chinese government from its citizens as this activist has essentially forced he hand of the central government?

Patience: To be honest with you I think very little. When you speak to Chinese about this issue they will say it's simply up to the central government. I mean many Chinese are simply disengaged from these big issues that involve America. They think that they're in the hands of China's leaders and there's really nothing they can do. That said, when it revealed that Mr. Cheng had escaped, he's blind and he scaled a wall and he was driven hundreds of miles from Shandong Province to the US embassy, I think there was a sense of jubilation amongst many of his supporters, but it was a bittersweet moment because after it became public that Mr. Cheng was in the embassy, many of the people involved in helping him escape, indeed his supporters, were rounded up by the Chinese authorities. And he said himself that his wife whilst he was at the embassy, his wife was tied to a chair for two days in their home, and it's been a very traumatic incident for Mr. Cheng, his family and many of his supporters.

Werman: The BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing.