Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
The Chinese dissident lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who made a cinematic escape from his village in rural Shandong province to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, could be a visiting scholar at New York University.
Professor Jerome Cohen, head of the U.S-.Asia Law Institute at NYU’s law school is an old friend of Chen’s and extended the invitation on Monday.
"I extended it on Monday before we knew the opportunity (for him to travel) would come so quickly, and now I will clarify it and make it available to him in writing so he can process his documents,” Cohen told WNYC Friday afternoon.
The university confirmed the invitation and said Guangcheng had "long-established relationships" at the school.
"As a visiting scholar, he would be working with our law programs and scholars," the university said in a statement.
After much back and forth, the U.S. and China came close to a deal Friday that would end a standoff over the activist and allow him to travel to the U.S. for a fellowship at a university.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Chen would be able to apply for permits to study abroad.
“The Secretary put it best; she said that progress has been made to help him secure the future that he wants, so we feel we’re in a good place,” said Mark Toner, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department.
Cheng spent six days at the U.S. Embassy last month and is currently in a Beijing hospital. He has told reporters that his wife is being followed by undercover officers. When first released from the U.S. Embassy he said he wants to stay in China and study law in Tianjin, near Beijing. He has since told reporters he would like to leave China.
U.S. embassy spokesperson Victoria Nuland said she hopes the Chinese government will “expeditiously process” his application for travel documents and that the U.S. “would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention.”
"He's not coming to make political statements he's coming to learn, exchange ideas, just like others. Of course, when he does, he's free to say what he wants," Cohen said.
Cohen first met Cheng in 2003 when he first visited the U.S. and said he was struck by the blind lawyer.
“When you meet him, you don’t forget him. He’s a quiet, charismatic, highly intelligent, very idealistic, but realistic person,” Cohen said. “This is a man that knows about real life and is hoping to improve it for many, many people who have been discriminated against. Not only blind people but other disabled people.”
Cohen said Chen still needs to accept his invitation and that he may choose another school.
He said NYU often accepts many visiting scholars from China, but most receive Chinese government financing. Chen would be here as a visiting scholar.