Chen Guangcheng may be allowed to leave China to study abroad, Chinese officials have indicated.
"As a Chinese citizen, if he wants to study abroad he can go through the normal channels to the relevant departments and complete the formalities in accordance with the law like other Chinese citizens," said a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry this morning and cited by the Associated Press.
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The US State Department later said Chen had been offered a fellowship at a US university, the BBC reported.
That would allow his wife and two children to accompany him, according to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who said that their visa requests would be given "priority attention."
According to one of Chen's supporters, he has received an invitation from New York University, the AP said.
The New York Times hailed the development as a "possible breakthrough" in the crisis over Chen's fate. The study-abroad option would allow Chen to leave China without giving him any exceptional status, American attorney Jerome A. Chen, who has discussed the proposal with Chen, told the paper.
It is not clear, however, whether Chen's family would be permitted to join him. At a press briefing this morning Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said he had no information on the matter, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Since leaving the US Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday, Chen has repeatedly pleaded for US assistance to take his wife and children out of China, most dramatically in a phone-in to a congressional hearing yesterday.
Chen does not necessarily wish to leave his country for good, however, he told the Washington Post.
"It doesn't mean I won’t come back," he said. "As a free person, I believe I am endowed with the right to leave China when I want to and come back anytime I want."
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