China activist arrives in US

Tested relations between nations, Obama’s resolve

Kyodo News via Associated Press
Chen Guangcheng and his family were escorted onto the flight by US officials 15 minutes before takeoff.

BEIJING - Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal advocate who made an improbable escape from virtual house arrest and sought refuge in the US Embassy here, arrived in Newark, N.J., on Saturday, ending a fraught diplomatic drama that threatened to disrupt relations between China and the United States.

The arrival of Chen, one of the country’s most prominent dissidents, and the talks that led up to it, appeared to reflect careful calculations in both countries as they seek to cooperate on a range of economic and security issues.

The US role in aiding Chen - spiriting him into the embassy after he escaped with the help of other dissidents - infuriated the Chinese, who complained fiercely about what they considered interference in their internal affairs.


But in the end they quietly engaged with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and a team of diplomats to defuse what could have evolved into a full-blown diplomatic crisis.

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For China’s government, Chen’s departure followed a pattern of allowing some especially vocal dissidents to leave in order to minimize the impact of their activism at home, but it also appeared to reflect an assessment that it was not worth damaging relations with the United States to force him to stay.

In Washington, the State Department welcomed Chen’s departure and praised the Chinese government in a statement that reflected its handling of the case from the start: understated and nonconfrontational, despite the emotions and high stakes involved for both countries.

“We also express our appreciation for the manner in which we were able to resolve this matter and to support Mr. Chen’s desire to study in the US and pursue his goals,’’ said the State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland.

Her statement referred to the complex understanding - the Chinese were loath to call it a deal - in which Chen was allowed to attend New York University Law School on a fellowship rather than seek asylum, which the authorities in Beijing considered an affront.


School officials said they had already stocked a faculty apartment with Chinese food and new furniture for him. He arrived Saturday evening at Newark Liberty International Airport.

His departure - after two weeks of waiting - avoided a major embarrassment at home for the Obama administration, which initially arranged for Chen to stay and study in China, only to see him change his mind after he left the embassy and entered a Beijing hospital for treatment.

That prompted criticism from activists and some congressional Republicans who accused the administration of seeking an expedient solution to a nettlesome problem before Clinton’s visit to China in early May.

Chen left Beijing on Saturday night with his wife and two children, the departure was shrouded in secrecy.

He and his family said they did not know they were leaving the country until several hours before the flight, and it was only on their way to the airport that they learned where they were heading. The passports they had been awaiting were delivered by Chinese officials shortly before they boarded the plane.


Once on board, flight attendants promptly drew a curtain around their business class seats and barred passengers in the cabin from using the toilet while the plane was on the runway.

The Chens had been driven directly to Beijing International Airport by employees of Chaoyang Hospital, where Chen was being treated for intestinal problems and for the foot he broke during his escape.

Airline officials increased security on the flight, and reporters were told they would not be able to speak to Chen during the 13-hour trip to Newark.