While the Chinese agreement to allow dissident Chen Guangcheng to apply for papers to visit the United States allows both governments to save face, there remain unanswered questions and possible pitfalls to the deal, activists and diplomats acknowledged Friday.
For one thing, it remains unclear whether China will allow Chen to return once he has left. Authorities have often in the past blocked the return of activists who have gone on medical leave abroad.
It is also not clear how soon officials will allow Chen to leave. Presumably, they could issue him a passport for swift departure. But they seem to want at least some delay, perhaps in hope that the worldwide attention to the case will diminish after the high-level talks end.
A delay of a few weeks on his departure won’t be important, but “if he’s still there after months, that’s going to generate reaction that won’t be good for either side,” said an American activist who has been close to the events.
It is also uncertain whether Chen will be obliged to return to his home town to apply for papers, as is legally required. Chen probably won’t want to do that, activists said, because of past mistreatment at the hands of local authorities.
Beyond the questions of when and how Chen leaves, it is somewhat unclear how Chen’s reputation will be affected. After his courageous flight from his rural village, where he had been under house arrest, to the American Embassy in Beijing, his shifting positions during the week on whether to stay in China or leave made him appear, to some observers, manipulative or erratic.
Chen, a blind 40-year-old attorney, ran afoul of local authorities after exposing forced sterilizations in Shandong Province. He escaped house arrest nearly two weeks ago and went to the U.S. Embassy for help, sparking a political crisis for both countries.
-- Paul Richter in Washington
Photo: Chen Guangcheng, center, is flanked by U.S. State Department legal advisor Harold Koh, left, and Gary Locke, the U.S. ambassador to China, at a hospital in Beijing on Wednesday. Credit: U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office