A Chinese dissident who was at the center of a diplomatic dispute between Washington and Beijing is spending his first full day in the US. Upon arrival he expressed his gratitude to both American and Chinese authorities.
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng enjoyed his first hours in New York on Sunday, a day after his plane touched down at Newark International Airport. The arrival of Chen with his wife and children ended weeks of uncertainty about his fate. He now plans to study law at New York University.
Chen's departure from Beijing came about a month after he escaped from house arrest and sought shelfter in the US embassy in Beijing for several days. He left the embassy on May 2 and had been in a hospital in the Chinese capital until Saturday, when he was given a passport and put on the plane bound for the US.
"I am very gratified to see that the Chinese government has been dealing with the situation with restraint and calm, and I hope to see that they continue to open discourse and earn the respect and trust of the people," Chen said through a translator outside of a New York University housing building in Manhattan's Greenwich Village.
He also thanked officials at the US embassy in Beijing and other embassies who had "called in with their support."
US officials played down Chen’s arrival in an apparent effort to avoid re-opening a rift with Beijing over his case.
"We’re pleased this has reached a resolution," White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said.
The dissident's stay at the US embassy had triggered a delicate diplomatic dispute between the two countries, which ended with Chen left the compound of his own accord in exchange for guarantees about his safety and a pledge that he would be allowed to study at a university of his choice.
After originally saying he wanted to stay in China, Chen soon said he feared for the safety of his family and wished instead to go to the US. This led to another round of negotiations between Washington and Beijing that ended in an agreement that will allow him to study law at New York University.
The 40-year-old activist drew the wrath of China's communist authorities after he exposed human rights abuses, including forced sterilizations and late-term abortion's, under the country's “one-child” policy.
Prior to his escape, Chen had spent 19 months under house arrest. He had previously served a four-year prison sentence.
ccp, pfd//tm (AP, AFP, dpa)