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Can China, US strike a new deal on blind dissident? (+video)

Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese activist, has upended an earlier agreement between China and the US, disrupting a visit to Beijing by Hillary Clinton.

By Staff writer / May 3, 2012

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, left, talks with China's Vice President Xi Jinping, right, during a meeting at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Thursday, May 3.

Jason Lee/AP

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Beijing

As blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng spent a second day in the hospital here Thursday pondering his future, doubts arose whether he would be able to back out of a deal that he and US diplomats struck with the Chinese government for him to stay in China.

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US Ambassador Gary Locke answers questions about why US released Chen Guangcheng to Chinese custody.

Mr. Chen continued to tell foreign reporters that he had changed his mind about the agreement, fearing for his safety, and that he now wants to go to the United States with his wife and children.

A US official was quoted as saying that Washington stood ready to help Chen whatever he decided to do, but stopped short of pledging an offer of political asylum for the human rights advocate and his family.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman refused to say how Beijing would respond to any US overture to renegotiate the deal, reached after several days of intense talks, allowing Chen to live peacefully and study in China, as he had originally said he wanted to do.

But Chinese experts were dubious; “I can’t say that it is totally impossible” that the Chinese authorities would allow Chen and his family to leave the country soon, says Shi Yinhong, head of the American Studies Center at Renmin University in Beijing and an occasional adviser to the Chinese government. “But I don’t think it is very likely.”

Because Chinese negotiators worked with their American counterparts, not with Chen himself while he was in the US embassy, where he had sought refuge after escaping house arrest a few days earlier, “they won’t pay much attention to what he says,” believes Professor Shi. “In international relations, changing this kind of agreement is ridiculous.”

Who's at the hospital?

US officials spent the day at the Beijing hospital where Chen is undergoing medical tests, but had been unable to see him, according to a senior official. 

Chen told the BBC by telephone he believed Chinese security men were denying embassy representatives access to him. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that US officials had spoken to Chen twice by phone on Thursday and with his wife, and that “they as a family have had a change of heart about whether they want to stay in China.”

“We are continuing to try to ascertain and work with him on what he wants to do,” the senior official said, while Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who helped negotiate the original deal, talked with Chinese officials Thursday.

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