NEW YORK – A Chinese legal activist who was suddenly allowed to leave the country arrived in the United States on Saturday, ending a nearly monthlong diplomatic tussle that had tested U.S.-China relations.
Chen Guangcheng had been hurriedly taken from a hospital hours earlier and put on a plane for the U.S. after Chinese authorities suddenly told him to pack and prepare to leave. He arrived Saturday evening at Newark Liberty International Airport and was whisked to New York City, where he will be staying.
Dressed in a white shirt and khaki pants and using crutches, his right leg in a cast, Chen, 40, 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,” he said through a translator, “so I have come here for a bit of recuperation for body and in spirit.”
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.
After seven years of prison and house arrest, Chen, who is blind, made a daring escape from his rural village in April and was given sanctuary inside the U.S. 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 U.S. to study law, a goal of his, at New York University.
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 U.S. Embassy. The two met when Chen came to the United States on a State Department program in 2003, and Cohen has been a staunch advocate for him since.
Before he left China, Chen asked his supporters and others in the activist community to respect his desire to leave the front lines of the rights struggle in China, saying, “I am requesting a leave of absence, and I hope that they will understand.”