Dissident Leaves China For U.S.

May 19, 2012
Originally published on May 19, 2012 1:18 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

From NPR News, it's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

Our cover story today: the tangled web of financial reform on Wall Street. We'll get to that in a moment. But first to news about the blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. You'll recall he escaped house arrest in China last month and made his way to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

Well, this morning, Chen and his family left China for the U.S. after Chinese and U.S. officials came to an agreement that will allow Chen to study law at New York University.

NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen is with me now for more. And, Michele, remind us, first of all, what Chen Guangcheng did that so upset Chinese authorities.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, he's a legal activist who took on the issue of forced abortions and forced sterilizations of women for China's One Child Policy. That's not only why he got in trouble in China, but also why he's rose to prominence here in the U.S. and has a lot of support among members of Capitol Hill in particular.

RAZ: And members of evangelical groups as well, of course.

KELEMEN: Right.

RAZ: How was this resolved so quickly? I mean, it's just a few weeks ago, he was actually in the U.S. embassy, and there was discussion about, you know, what was going to happen to him, and then he went to a hospital because he got injured during the escape from house arrest. And now he's here.

KELEMEN: It was quite a diplomatic roller coaster, if you recall. I mean, he escaped from house arrest where he was in Shandong, made his way to Beijing. The U.S. embassy diplomat went out and brought him into the embassy. They took a big risk on that, and then worked with him on this idea of staying in China, going to law school. So here, you had the U.S. actually negotiating with the Chinese government over the fate of a Chinese citizen. So it was quite an extraordinary story.

But when he decided to leave and was reunited with his family, he changed his mind and wanted to come to the U.S. This was all at a moment when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Beijing. It was this huge drama overshadowing these major talks between the U.S. and China. And the U.S. quietly, behind the scenes, worked with the Chinese government to get him his passport and to get him out.

RAZ: Now, he has been offered this visiting fellowship at NYU to study law. It sounds like a pretty good deal. But what's realistically going to happen in a few years when this fellowship is over? Is he going to go back to China?

KELEMEN: It's really hard to say. I mean, for one, this was kind of a face-saving way out for the Chinese. I don't think they really wanted him there at all. It's easier for them to have him here. And more likely than not, he becomes just another voice, just another activist here in the United States. It's difficult to see if he can maintain much connection to the people in China, to the people that he had represented in his village before. And I think, you know, we'll have to wait and see.

RAZ: What about his remaining family members in China? Not immediate family members, but there are family members in China - he's worried about them and their fate.

KELEMEN: He is. I mean, he called in to a congressional hearing this past week to talk about his nephew who is now facing what he called trumped-up charges of trying to kill local authorities who had entered his house and attacked him. So it's really tenuous for his family and for all the people that helped him escape.

RAZ: That's NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen covering the arrival of the Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng to the United State. Michele, thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Nice to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.