New York, NY– Blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng arrived Saturday in New York, ending a month long diplomatic standoff between the U.S. and China. After seven years of prison and house arrest, Chen made a daring escape from his rural village in China in April and was given sanctuary inside the U.S. Embassy, triggering a U.S.-China showdown over his fate.
Earlier on Saturday, Guangcheng was told out of the blue by Chinese authorities to pack his bags and was put on a plane for the U.S. Chen was greeted with cheers when he arrived at his apartment in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, where he will live with his family.
“For the past seven years, I have never seen the light of day,” said Chen. “Today, I can confidently say after spending the day in the United States, I have never seen anything like it before, nor will I in my life time.”
The State Department struck a late night deal Friday with China in the midst of darkness for Chen’s release.
“I’m very happy we struck a deal with China that allowed us to stay out of the rest of the world’s very judgmental eye,” said Victoria Nulan, State Department spokesman. “I honestly think Chen didn’t see this deal coming.”
Chen landed himself in trouble with China after crusading for the disabled, fighting for farmers’ rights, and fighting against forced abortions in his rural community. Chen was arrested in 2006 for charges the Chinese government fabricated, his supporters say. Chen says the freedom he has been granted in the U.S. is vastly different than his experience in China.
“There is more freedom in the U.S. than you can shake a stick at,” said Chen. “I’m just going to have to feel my way around U.S. laws to truly figure out all the freedoms I can enjoy.”
Previously, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Beijing for annual diplomatic discussions had struck a deal for Chen to walk free, only for him to change his mind later. That forced new negotiations between the two countries that finally lead to Chen’s release on Saturday.
“His case was difficult. But how can you turn a blind eye to a man in his situation,” said Nulan. “I do think finally we have patched things up.”
Chen’s release may of sent a much broader global statement though than one man’s quest for freedom. China has long been thought to be the world’s next super power, surpassing the U.S. in economic, diplomatic, and military might. But Chen’s escape and release challenges such thoughts.
“How does a blind man escape to the U.S. embassy? How does that happen? Were the guards blind too?” said Dan Usera, professor of Political Science at UNC-Asheville State. “For a country that prides itself in military supremacy, this has to be embarrassing.”
The Chinese government has failed to release a statement to date on Chen’s escape and subsequent release. Chen is expected to study law at New York University.
“It makes sense. They say justice is blind. You couldn’t have a better fit,” said Usera.