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Chen confident he'll leave China, likes U.S. deal
Updated 5/3/2012 11:32 PM ET
BEIJING — Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is confident that an agreement brokered by the United States will ensure his safety and help him get out of China with his family, he told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview Thursday.

Speaking by cellphone in a wing off-limits to visitors, Chen said his health was OK and that he was pleased with arrangements that U.S. Embassy officials made with Chinese authorities to ensure his safety and liberty in China.

"I hope the Sino-U.S. agreement can be implemented," he said. "I am not disappointed in the U.S. government. They made such a great effort. I am very grateful. It was under their great efforts that I got this important agreement."

The agreement Chen was referring to is one made before he left the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday, in which embassy officials told him Chinese authorities agreed to investigate his allegations of abuse and oppression at the hands of Chinese officials in his hometown in Shandong province. The deal also allows him to move to another city and study the law at a university.

Chen also spoke to a congressional hearing in Washington Thursday from his Beijing hospital bed. "I'm really afraid for my other family members' lives," Chen told the hearing, convened to discuss his case and the Obama administration's handling of it.

He said that since his escape, Chinese authorities have installed seven video cameras and even an electric fence at his house. "Now those security officers in my house basically have said, 'We want to see what else Chen Guangcheng can do.' " Chen's comments were translated to English by a rights activist testifying at the hearing, who arranged the call. Chen spoke for several minutes, in conversation with Republican Rep. Chris Smith, chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

Some media reports had suggested he was unsatisfied with the deal. Chen called it a "breakthrough" in his conversation with USA TODAY.

"The Chinese government has promised to guarantee my civil rights and freedoms. Is this not a breakthrough? But its implementation is very important. It must be fully implemented, and this has not happened yet," he said.

Permission to travel abroad will be "a test of whether my civil rights and freedoms are being fulfilled," he said.

Chen reiterated he wants to leave China. His friends and supporters had said he told them he was afraid for his life and that of his family if he remains in China.

"First, I want to go out of China to recuperate," he said. "I will leave China and later come back; that's only natural."

He said he never said he wanted to leave China with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is due to leave Beijing this week after two days of meetings with top-level Chinese officials on matters unrelated to Chen.

Chinese police are watching the hospital, and security staff have prohibited media from visiting. He said he had to remain in bed because his foot is in plaster due to a broken bone he suffered during his escape from house arrest.

Chen stayed at the embassy for six days and left Wednesday after embassy officials told him they had worked out a deal for his safety. Chen said he did not know how many more days he would remain in the hospital but hoped to travel to the United States in the future.

Chen, 40, was reunited with his wife, daughter and son at the hospital Wednesday, where his wife described the beatings she received once his escape became known, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. They "had a change of heart" about staying in China, Nuland said.

Nuland stopped short of saying whether Washington would try to reopen negotiations to get Chen abroad. "We need to consult with them further to get a better sense of what they want to do and consider their options," she said.

Supporters of Chen said they were dismayed that Clinton made no mention of his plight in her remarks Thursday during U.S.-China talks over economic matters. Clinton did mention human rights in general, saying that as part of her dialogue with the Chinese she will raise "the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms."

China's government has refused to discuss publicly Chen's request for asylum to the United States, but on Thursday the Foreign Ministry did not raise its previous demands that the U.S. apologize for providing sanctuary to Chen.

Chen had spent seven years of what he describes as often brutal house arrest in his village in east China's Shandong province. The threats Chen says Chinese officials have made against his family have alarmed supporters.

"I never thought the Chinese government would take such brutal measures; this is worse than expected," Hu Jia, a friend of Chen's and fellow activist, said of the threats. "He still faces great risks here. It would be better if Chen could go to the USA for a while, to study and recuperate."

Hu said he met Chen in secret last week, when they agreed Chen would not seek asylum but stay only temporarily inside the embassy until Chinese authorities met his conditions.

If Chen returns to Shandong, "his person will be in great danger, as they hate him for exposing their crimes" related to abuse of the family planning policy, said rights lawyer Li Baiguang, who has known Chen since supplying him with legal texts and working jointly on rights cases, a decade ago. "Now he is in greater danger, as this has become an international crisis, and conflict between China and the USA."

The safety of Chen and his family, friends and supporters is Amnesty International's major concern, said Sarah Schafer, a China researcher, based in Hong Kong, for Amnesty. "It's clear now there are questions" about the promises U.S. officials say China made, she said. "Will they be kept, and how will the U.S. ensure they are kept?"

Contributing: Associated Press

Posted 5/3/2012 8:47 AM ET
Updated 5/3/2012 11:32 PM ET
Chen Guangcheng, center, holds hands with U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, right, as State Department legal adviser Harold Koh applauds Wednesday in Beijing.
U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office via AP
Chen Guangcheng, center, holds hands with U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, right, as State Department legal adviser Harold Koh applauds Wednesday in Beijing.