Chen will study law at New York University, and he has said he hopes to return to China to promote legal reform. But if the Chinese government does not want him back, he could end up stuck in a prolonged and frustrating exile in the United States.
After landing on a United Airlines flight to Newark, Chen was whisked to NYU, which has arranged for him to live in graduate housing near Washington Square and for him to attend law tutorials taught in Chinese because he does not speak English.
“For the past seven years, I have never had a day’s rest,” said Chen, standing with crutches, to a small crowd at the NYU housing complex. “So I have come here for a bit of recuperation in body and in spirit.” He thanked the U.S. government and praised the Chinese government for dealing with his situation “with restraint and calm.”
Human rights activists hailed Chen’s arrival, but added that although his coming to the United States might be a face-saving way to defuse diplomatic tensions, China remains unchanged.
“Chen’s escape should not distract the international community from the task at hand: convincing China’s leaders to respect the human rights of all its citizens,” Frank Jannuzi, head of the Washington office of Amnesty International, said in an e-mail.
For the past two weeks, Chinese officials and American diplomats worked out of public view to enable Chen and his family to travel out of the country. The State Department tapped contingency funds to pay for the business-class flight, said a senior administration official who was not authorized to give his name. Two mid-level embassy officers in Beijing who had gotten to know Chen and are fluent in Chinese accompanied him and his family on the journey.
Chen’s dramatic escape one month ago from unlawful house arrest in his native Shandong province, and his emergence a week later at the fortified U.S. Embassy in Beijing, had threatened to derail U.S.-China relations as Washington seeks to engage China’s leaders on a wide range of global political and economic issues.
But the relatively quick resolution of Chen’s case — so sudden that Chen himself did not know Saturday morning that he was leaving for the United States — suggested that both countries were eager to resolve the matter swiftly and not let it unduly affect their broader relationship.