Will China Follow Through On Assurances About Activist’s Safety?

The dramatic news that U.S. officials have escorted blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng to a hospital after receiving assurances that he won’t be put back under house arrest raises a key question:

Will Chinese authorities follow through on those assurances?

“He was escorted from the [U.S.] embassy to the hospital. But, frankly, he can’t be escorted around China for the rest of his life,” Richard McGregor, Washington bureau chief for The Financial Times said earlier on Morning Edition.

As he pointed out, “in the past, Chen was actually snatched from the capital” by authorities from his home city. “Who’s to say what can happen in the future? … Assurances only go so far.”

As NPR’s Louisa Lim added, “a lot depends on how this now plays out.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has gone to China for previously scheduled discussions, seemed to acknowledge the uncertainty in a statement sent to reporters:

“I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng’s stay and departure from the U.S. embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values. I was glad to have the chance to speak with him today and to congratulate him on being reunited with his wife and children.

“Mr. Chen has a number of understandings with the Chinese government about his future, including the opportunity to pursue higher education in a safe environment. Making these commitments a reality is the next crucial task. The United States government and the American people are committed to remaining engaged with Mr. Chen and his family in the days, weeks, and years ahead.”

For his part, Chen told Clinton, “I want to kiss you,” during a phone call following his departure from the U.S. embassy — where he had been staying since escaping from house arrest on April 22.

Chen, a self-trained lawyer, had run afoul of authorities in recent years because of his work to expose a campaign of forced abortions. He reportedly injured himself during his flight from house arrest.

Chinese authorities have asked the U.S. to apologize for allowing Chen to seek shelter at the U.S. embassy in Beijing. Until today, American officials had not acknowledged their role in the affair.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.