New York (AsiaNews) - A crowd of politicians, exiled dissidents and college students greeted Chen Guangcheng on his arrival at New York University. An emotional Chen greeted his wellwishers, pledging that he would continue his fight for freedom in China. The diplomatic row that strained relations between Beijing and Washington over the blind Chinese anti-forced abortions campaigner appears to be over.
The Chen Guangcheng affair broke out on 26 April when the dissident escaped from house arrest the authorities had imposed on him after four years of prison.
A diplomatic tug-of-war between Beijing and Washington began when he found refuge at the US Embassy in Beijing, at a time when the two nations were holding their annual bilateral summit.
After two days of impasse, Chen left the embassy on the condition that he would be allowed to leave the country. He was sent to hospital where he was placed under police guard until he left last Saturday. The dissident, his wife Yuan Weijing and their two children, landed in Newark, New Jersey, soon after 18:00 (22:00 GMT).
At a press conference near the university apartment block in Greenwich Village where he and his family will stay, Chen said that "Justice has no borders," and that he would "continue to work to promote justice and equality in China."
Speaking about his ordeal, he said, "I'm very grateful for the assistance of the American embassy and also [for] receiving a promise from the Chinese government for protection of my rights as a citizen over the long term. I believe that the promise from the central government is sincere and they are not lying to me." However, he did express concerns for the safety of his relatives back in China.
His nephew Chen Kegui is still in custody after he was arrested on murder charges for using a knife in self-defence against police agents who had burst into his home in search of his dissident uncle. Although the charges are far-fetched because no one died, the authorities have used brute force to prevent his lawyers from speaking to him.
Chen Guangcheng's older brother, Chen Guangfu, was also beaten and tortured after the activist escaped from house arrest. According to Chinese Human Rights Defender, during a long interrogation, Chen Guangfu was slapped, had his hands whipped with a leather belt, was hit in the ribs, and had his toes stomped hard. At present, he still remains in police custody.
Former Tiananmen Square student leader Chai Ling, a convert to Christianity opposed to forced abortions, was at the airport to greet Chen. She described him as a hero, but warned that Chen would still have to be careful about saying or doing something in the US that could provoke authorities to crack down on his family at home.
For Wei Jingsheng, leader of the Democracy Wall and a veteran dissident, Chen should also not accept lawyers appointed by the Communist Party, but choose his own legal counsel instead. He must also continue his fight for justice if he does not want something bad to happen in Shandong.
For her part, former House speaker Nancy Pelosi described his arrival in the US as "a milestone in the cause for human rights in China".
"The courage of Chen Guangcheng to risk his life and livelihood to advocate for disadvantaged people in China is an inspiration to freedom-seeking people around the world," she said.