Clinton Leaves China, But Activist's Story Isn't Over

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has left China, after a diplomatic roller coaster of a trip, revolving around the fate of activist Chen Guangcheng, who still remains in a Beijing hospital. NPR's Louisa Lim tells host Scott Simon that Friday night, China hinted it would let Chen apply for permission to study overseas.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has left China after a diplomatic roller coaster of a trip fraught with human drama. Now, this revolved around the fate of Chen Guangcheng, the blind dissident who is still in a Beijing hospital. But last night, China indicated that it would let Mr. Chen apply for permission to study overseas, hinting at a way out of the crisis that had overshadowed the summit Secretary Clinton had gone to China to attend. Our Beijing correspondent Louisa Lim joins us. Louisa, thanks for being with us.

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: Hello, Scott.

SIMON: Mr. Chen had indicated that he wanted to leave on Secretary Clinton's plane. Was that, as far as you can tell, ever in the cards?

LIM: No, I don't think it was ever likely. I mean, he and his family, none of them have got passports, so they couldn't leave anyway. And the U.S. statement issued last night that the U.S. expects that China will handle that expeditiously. So, we don't know when exactly that will happen and at the moment he is still in hospital. We've learned that he has actually broken three bones and I think that happened in this dramatic escape. He was under house arrest for 19 months. He climbed a wall and jumped down and hurt himself, but still managed to get to the U.S. embassy in Beijing 300 miles away where he spent six days holed up. So, today he is still in hospital and we have not been able to speak to him. The U.S. embassy is also not answering calls today, so we don't know what kind of contact they've been able to have with him. We do know, though, of course, that Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state, who had been handling his case, he left the country with Secretary Clinton, leaving the U.S. embassy here to deal with the case. But, as I said, security around him still remains very tight today.

SIMON: Well, what can you tell about the circumstances under which he's being kept in that hospital?

LIM: Well, he's being kept in a hospital in central Beijing and there are dozens of policemen all around the hospital. And people who try to visit him are having all kinds of problems. Two of his friends were beaten very badly. One of them has become deaf in one ear and has had his hearing in the other ear compromised because he tried to visit him in hospital. And that man, Jiang Tianyong, is now under house arrest and apparently unable to go to a hospital to get treatment himself. But it's a mixed picture. Another supporter, who was instrumental in his escape, has finally been released after more than a week of detention, and she's not allowed to speak to the press. And there are members of his family also unaccounted for. But the security around him is actually, it's so tight that there's also kind of intimidation of the Western press going on as well. And last night about a dozen Western reporters were actually summoned by the Chinese authorities and told that they were not allowed to report from the hospital, and if they were caught there again their visas could be revoked. So, it's a very mixed picture at the moment.

SIMON: Do the Chinese know much about the case of this one man?

LIM: Well, there hasn't been a lot of coverage in the state-run press for sure. If you look on the Internet, the picture's really quite different. It's really very sympathetic towards Chen Guangcheng, even though his name is still forbidden. It's still a banned term. If you were to search Weibo, which is China's biggest Twitter service, you wouldn't be able to find his name.

SIMON: Where are we now in this case, Louisa?

LIM: Well, it's difficult to tell. I mean, a lot depends on how quickly the Chinese authorities decide to give Chen Guangcheng and his family passports. So, for them, it looks as if they may be allowed to leave at some point. But for other activists, things look as if they're getting worse. Paradoxically, this has led to a crackdown on those who have helped him or have had sympathy with him. So, it could be worse for other activists in China.

SIMON: NPR's Louisa Lim in Beijing. Thanks so much.

LIM: Thank you.

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