But it’s unclear how long Mr. Chen will stay in the United States or if he’ll be allowed to return to China. And Chen’s release from what had been house arrest and what he says were threats and abuse involving his family also spotlights the difficulty other activists face under a government regime and a system of local authority many view as repressive.
"Chen's journey to the United States would not have been possible without his own valiant character, the courageous support of his family and friends and the robust voice of the international community that never stopped working on his behalf,” Frank Jannuzi, head of Amnesty International's Washington D.C. office, said in a statement Saturday.
“But while Chen and his immediate family are safe, Amnesty International continues to be concerned about those in China who share his quest for justice, for they remain in serious jeopardy. Countless people, known and unknown, are subject to arbitrary detention, beatings and other forms of repression,” Mr. Jannuzi said.
“While Chen starts a new beginning, many continue to languish in despair,” Jannuzi added. “The international community needs to show the Chinese people that it is on the side of human rights and basic dignity by continuing to push China to end the intimidation and abuse of its people."
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Others express similar concern.
“For decades America’s managers of China policy have accepted the implicit demand of China’s rulers that they, and only they, are ‘China.’ In diplomatic lingo, ‘the Chinese’ view on anything – trade, Taiwan, Tibet, Syria, cyberwarfare, even human rights – is the view of the ruling circles, no matter how much it might diverge from currents in popular thought,” Perry Link, professor emeritus of East Asian studies at Princeton University, wrote in a letter to the New York Times this week.
“The more than a billion non-elite Chinese also deserve attention; public, dignified support for their aspirations would be a good start,” wrote Professor Link, who now teaches at the University of California, Riverside. “Where will our ‘relationship’ be if, someday, China’s ruling group goes the way of other repressive authoritarian regimes and is no longer there?”
The Chens' departure to the United States marks the conclusion of nearly a month of uncertainty and years of mistreatment by local authorities for the activist.
After seven years of prison and house arrest, Chen made a daring escape from his rural village in late April and was given sanctuary inside the US Embassy, triggering a diplomatic standoff over his fate.
With Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Beijing for annual high-level discussions, officials struck a deal that let Chen walk free, only to see him have second thoughts, forcing new negotiations that led to an agreement to send him to the US to study law – a goal of his – at New York University.
"We are looking forward to his arrival in the United States later today," Nuland said in a statement. "We also express our appreciation for the manner in which we were able to resolve this matter and to support Mr. Chen's desire to study in the US and pursue his goals."
Jerome Cohen, co-director of the US-Asia Law Institute at the New York University School of Law and an expert on Chinese law, released the following statement upon learning that Chen had left China en route to the United States, where he will participate as a fellow at NYU.
"I am very happy to receive the news that Chen Guangcheng is on his way to the US,” Professor Cohen said. “I look forward to welcoming him and his family tonight, and to working with him on his course of study."
As he was waiting to depart Beijing, Chen told Sky News by cell phone that he is not seeking political asylum, does not plan to stay in the US for the long term, and hopes one day to return to China.
Referring to his supporters and others in the activist community, Chen said, "I am requesting a leave of absence, and I hope that they will understand.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
SEE ALSO: 6 famous dissidents in China