BREAKING: Chinese Dissident Chen Guangcheng Arrives on American Soil (UPDATED)
Safely in the U.S. — in “the heart of Greenwich Village” — Mr. Chen held “the kind of open-air news conference that he could have never imagined while under virtual house arrest in China,” says the New York Times.
Speaking through a translator, Mr. Chen said, “I hope to see that they continue to open discourse and earn the respect and trust of the people.”
Some additional excerpts from the Times:
“I don’t really feel that happy, but rather sentimental,” he said in the brief interview. “After all the suffering for years, I don’t have those tearful moments anymore, but I do feel something inside.”
He looked calm, but his hands shook as he talked about leaving a country he has tried to change from within for years.
“I’m very clear what kind of role I’m playing right now,” he said. “Opportunity and risk exist at the same time.”
Welcome Home, Mr. Chen
United Airlines flight UA88 has just — shortly after 6:00 p.m. EST — landed on American soil at Newark, New Jersey, ending at least the first phase of what had been a very delicate and potentially explosive diplomatic dispute between the United States and China.
As reported in an update here, Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng left China aboard a commercial flight on his way to the United States around 09:50 GMT.
After receiving their passports at the airport, the blind activist and his wife and two children boarded United Airlines flight UA88 bound for Newark, New Jersey, which departed Beijing at 17:50 Saturday evening, China time, (09:50 GMT), more than two hours late.
Mr. Chen had been taken from a Beijing hospital where he was being treated for a foot injury — incurred during a recent escape from house arrest in Shandong province — to the capital’s airport in a low-key manner designed “to spare Beijing further embarrassment over the case,” according to the BBC.
According to the New York Times:
Once on board, flight attendants promptly drew a curtain around their business class seats and barred other passengers in the cabin from using the toilet while the plane was on the runway.
Speaking by cellphone before he boarded the flight, Mr. Chen told friends he was excited to leave China but that he was also worried about the fate of relatives left behind. Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, a Christian advocacy group in Texas that championed Mr. Chen’s case, said, “He’s happy to finally have a rest after seven years of suffering, but he’s also worried they will suffer some retribution.”
Airline officials increased security on the flight, and reporters were told they would not be able to speak to Mr. Chen during the 13-hour trip to Newark.
Mr. Chen and his immediate family are now finally in the U.S. where he has been offered a fellowship at New York University Law School.
“With the activist on his way, both China and the US will want to put this extraordinary diplomatic dispute behind them, says the BBC’s Martin Patience in Beijing.”