Chen Guangcheng, blind Chinese dissident whose uncertain future nearly sparked an international incident, arrived at Newark Airport last night and appeared on the New York University campus last night to address the media. But, before landing, he told reporters on the plane, "I thank the American Embassy and American people. I’ll never forget what they’ve done."
Chen, a self-taught lawyer, is an outspoken advocate for women and the poor in China, thereby making him a target of the government. He had been held under house arrest, until a daring escape in April and finding sanctuary at the American Embassy in Beijing. Then a series of mistakes and miscommunications arose, with Chen claiming American officials had abandoned him with his family in danger. Then the U.S. and China were able to come to an agreement, where China would allow Chen to come to the U.S. to study. The State Department said yesterday, "We express our appreciation for the manner in which we were able to resolve this matter, support Mr. Chen's desire to study in the U.S."
Chen, his wife, and two children didn't realize they were leaving until hours before their flight yesterday. And while he was relieved to be headed to the U.S., he's worried about his remaining family in China. From the Daily Beast:
He said his main concern was for his family, including his 78-year-old mother, his older brother Cheng Guangfu, and his nephew Chen Kequi, who is in police custody. “I also hope the central government will keep its promise to investigate Shandong officials.”... His wife said their biggest worry was for Chen’s nephew, whose wife had tried to hire two defense lawyers, only to be told by local authorities that Kegui had asked for a public defender. “That’s the same thing that happened to Guangcheng,” she said, referring to Chen’s trial during which his own lawyers were harassed and barred from court.
The New Yorker stresses that the "world's attention should shift to ensuring that the relatives and colleagues that remain in China are not left to absorb the punishment that some in the Chinese state will seek to deliver."
In speaking with reporters, Chen addressed how it was very different to be able to speak freely, "I don’t really feel that happy, but rather sentimental. After all the suffering for years, I don’t have those tearful moments anymore, but I do feel something inside." The NY Times reports, "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.'"