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.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attends the third annual U.S. China High Level Consultation on People to People Exchange Meeting at the National Museum in Beijing Friday, May 4, 2012. (Vincent Thian/Vincent Thian/ Associated Press)
.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attends the third annual U.S. China High Level Consultation on People to People Exchange Meeting at the National Museum in Beijing Friday, May 4, 2012. (Vincent Thian/Vincent Thian/ Associated Press)

Clinton hails progress after China says blind activist can study abroad Add to ...

“[The official who visited said]they were authorized by the central government to talk to me about my situation. I told them what happened to me in Shandong. The official said to me ‘if the law was violated, we will investigate and punish [the offenders]’ This is what we talked about. As regards to what really will happen, we need to wait and see what they do,” he said. “This is a good start. It’s based on the agreement between China and America. This is why I said this agreement done by Ms. Hillary is unprecedented. Do you understand? If they really obey Chinese law and regulations and start a thorough investigation on this issue, I think this is a very positive thing.”

An investigation into his treatment in Shandong was a key demand made by Mr. Chen in a YouTube video that he posted last week, one in which he addressed Premier Wen Jiabao by name and asked for his personal intervention in the case.

The new, more conciliatory, tone is the latest position from Mr. Chen, who has at times seemed bewildered by events. It’s one that may be calibrated to allow all sides to save face, since going to the U.S. to receive medical care is less offensive in the eyes of the Communist Party leadership claiming asylum from political persecution.

The 40-year-old self-taught lawyer said he was alone Thursday night in his hospital room with his wife and two children, a rare reunion for the family, which had been forcibly split up by police – Mr. Chen’s son was taken away and forced to live with relatives in another part of China – as part of the campaign against Mr. Chen.

Mr. Chen initially drew the wrath of local authorities in Shandong for exposing endemic human rights violations there, including forced abortions and the sterilization of women who had violated the country’s one-child policy.

Mr. Chen said he still had worries about his security, particularly if he returned to Shandong, where he said his former captors had taken over his house and installed seven video cameras inside. He said he was worried for the safety of his 80-year-old mother, who was still in his hometown of Dongshigu.

During the interview, Mr. Chen also rescinded some of his stinging criticisms he had leveled this week against U.S. Embassy personnel, whom he told reporters abandoned him at the hospital on Wednesday night. He said he has since learned that the diplomats intended to stay by his side, but were forced by Chinese security officers to leave the hospital while Mr. Chen was out of the room receiving an examination.

Mr. Chen says he fractured his foot during his harrowing escape from Shandong – “every step was difficult” – and that he also has some other longstanding medical issues that went untreated during four years in prison (he was convicted of “organizing a mob to disturb traffic”) and the subsequent detention in his home.

Mr. Chen said his wife, Yuan Weijing, had been beaten by their captors in Shandong and also needed medical treatment.

Mr. Chen said that he spoke to U.S. diplomats by phone on Thursday but they had been prevented by police from visiting him. Uniformed and plainclothes police were stationed inside and outside Chaoyang Hospital on Thursday, keeping close watch on a crowd of foreign media who gathered outside.

The drama began April 22 when the Mr. Chen decided to flee his captors in Shandong. He deceived his guards into believing he was ill, then slipped out during the night to meet a friend who was waiting in her car at a prearranged meeting point. They drove 500 kilometres to Beijing and the U.S. Embassy. “I went to the American Embassy because democracy, freedom and human rights are the pillars of the country,” he explained.

While he was initially pleased with the deal he reached six days later, he made the decision to leave the embassy without being allowed to call his friends and fellow dissidents. Once he was out, they convinced him that he had put himself in danger by leaving the embassy, and told him he should request asylum.

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