Signs of a way forward on Chen Guangcheng diplomatic crisis

The Takeaway

Chen Guangcheng can apply to study abroad, just like Chinese foreign ministry officials announced Friday morning.

It;s just the latest breakthrough in the effort by Chinese and U.S. officials to find a way forward  for the dissident activist who is an outspoken critic of China's policy of limiting families to just one child. Chen sought protection at the U.S. embassy last month, received it and then left when an agreement between China and the United States was reached.

Shortly after leaving, however, he began to regret his decision and insisting he and his family wanted to leave China for the United States, where he could "rest" and begin his formal legal studies. Chen is a self-trained attorney. Now, there may be a way forward that allows China to save face and the U.S. to say it never abandoned someone who turned to them for help.

He "can apply through normal channels to the relevant departments in accordance with the law, just like any other Chinese citizen," said Liu Weimin, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said according to The New York TImes. "Competent Chinese authorities will handle his application in accordance with the law."

According to CNN and other media reports, Chen has received a fellowship to study at an American university already, perhaps New York University, which would allow him to begin his studies within months.

The agreement couldn't come at a better time for President Barack Obama, whose administration was taking a beating from political opponents, including Republican candidate Mitt Romney, for bungling the drive to help Chen.

Privately, officials have admitted to The Washington Post and others that the State Department made mistakes in its dealings with Chen. U.S. officials have tried to visit Chen in the hospital since he left the embassy, but have been barred by security officials. They have been able, however, to have brief telephone conversations.

The controversy over Chen Guancheng came just as Americans were beginning to tout improved ties with China, especially with regards to Syria and Iran, and as U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country for high-level diplomatic talks.

Chen had said he hoped to leave the country with Clinton, but that seems unlikely at this point, with the mission wrapping up Friday.

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