We are pleased to see Chen Guangcheng is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel -- China has allowed him to accept a fellowship at an American university and his family will be able to accompany him.
It is expected he will study at New York University, where his friend Jerome Cohen is a professor. In the last few days Cohen has been vital in representing Chen's interests in the negotiations between the United States and China.
As a side note, I met Cohen briefly in Beijing two years ago where I wrote about him here and here; having gotten to know Zhou Enlai in the early 1970s and worked in Beijing for a few years, Cohen has a very intimate and comprehensive knowledge of the country not only legally but historically too.
He has been following Chen's situation for seven years and even in his early 80s is not giving up the fight to help those who need legal representation wherever they are.
Cohen must be relieved Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin released a statement saying if Chen wanted to study abroad, as more than 300,000 Chinese students do, then he "can apply through normal channels to the relevant departments in accordance with the law, just like any other Chinese citizen."
At a news briefing today, Liu was certain that "competent Chinese authorities will handle his application in accordance with the law."
Fulfilling Chen's wish to study law and overseas will be extremely challenging for him and his family living in a new country and new language, but it will give them a chance to take a breather from what has happened to them in the last several years.
While China may be glad to be rid of Chen for a few years, what will happen after that? Will he be allowed back into China again? Or will he be forced to live in exile and his work in China come to a halt?
Chen will probably clamour to come back, but he will have to be a very good boy in the US and not be too vocal against China. But then again he might not be able to contain himself...
It seems human rights activists in China really need to work alone -- not be associated with anyone or have any loved ones. That way when they are in trouble, their friends and family don't have to be punished too.
Activists are willing to take whatever punishment -- even if it's uncalled for -- but when it comes to affecting their family, it's a really tough call.
Lawyer Gao Zhisheng comes to mind, now languishing in a Xinjiang jail while his family is now struggling to make new lives for themselves in the US.
The Chinese government doesn't mind disarming its critics one by one... it has time on its side...
We shall see how it deals with Chen. But in the meantime we will celebrate this diplomatic solution as a relief to this roller-coaster two weeks.