The U.S. is prepared to grant Chen Guangcheng a visa “right away,” Vice President Joe Biden said, and American officials are in contact with the legal activist over his desire to leave China.
“We expect the Chinese to stick to that commitment,” Biden said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” after China said May 4 that Chen had the right to apply for permission to study abroad. U.S. embassy officials are in daily contact with Chen and his wife, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Chen has been invited to be a visiting scholar at New York University, where his friend and adviser Jerome Cohen is a professor. His flight from house arrest to the U.S. embassy in Beijing and efforts to secure a deal over his fate last week overshadowed two days of annual strategic and economic talks in the Chinese capital between the world’s two biggest economies.
“I think his future is in America,” Biden told “Meet the Press” yesterday. “The Chinese have told us that if he files the paper to be able to have a -- be able to go abroad, that will be granted.”
Chen told the Washington Post in a telephone interview yesterday that he doesn’t expect to go to the U.S. “very soon,” citing health reasons including an intestinal inflammation. He said he hadn’t met with U.S. diplomats since May 4 and that supporters have been barred from seeing him at the hospital. Chen wasn’t available today on his mobile phone.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei declined to comment today when asked if Chen had applied for a passport. Hong said the U.S. interfered with China’s internal affairs in Chen’s case and should reflect on its actions.
On May 4, another Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Weimin, said that if Chen “wants to study abroad, he can, like any Chinese citizen, go through proper channels.” Later that day, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. expects China to “expeditiously process his applications.”
Chen was imprisoned for more than four years after representing villagers who opposed forced sterilizations and abortions, and then was held under house arrest until he escaped in late April. His case attracted the attention of U.S. leaders, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited Beijing last week for the annual cabinet-level talks.
Chen told American diplomats during his week-long stay in the U.S. embassy that he wanted to remain in China, and he left the compound for the hospital in a deal worked out with Chinese leaders. He later said he feared for his wife and children and wanted to travel outside China.
“He said ‘I don’t want to leave China, I just don’t want to go back to my village,’” Biden told NBC News. “That was arranged.”
After going to the hospital and talking to friends, they told him “you want to get out of here,” Biden said.
“And then he came to us and said, ‘I want to leave, and I want to leave with my family,’” Biden said. “And we got to work.”