WASHINGTON — The United States will grant Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng a visa as soon as he applies for one, and expects Beijing to stand by its promises, Vice President Joe Biden said Sunday.
Biden told NBC television that Washington wanted to help Chen take up the offer of a fellowship from New York University.
“We’re prepared to give a visa right away. He’s going to be able to take his family. We expect the Chinese to stick to that commitment,” Biden said.
Chen is at the center of a major diplomatic wrangle between China and the United States after he escaped harsh house arrest in the eastern province of Shandong late last month and sought refuge at the US embassy in Beijing.
He has been offered the fellowship but injuries sustained during his flight and official restrictions on access to him have prevented him from completing the necessary formalities to leave.
Chen on Sunday appealed for official help to leave China, saying he was effectively blocked in his hospital bed in Beijing.
“Now I have notified the hospital to invite them [government officials] to help me do the procedures. I really don’t have a way,” he told Agence France-Presse in a telephone interview.
“It’s even difficult for me to get out of bed and my other friends cannot come, so I have no way. They [US diplomats] have come, but they can’t see me.”
Senator John McCain, who was the Republican 2008 presidential nominee, said there had been “a number of missteps” in the handling of Chen’s case.
But he told ABC television “the key now right now is to get him out of there and to the United States. That’s I think what we all ought to focus on.
“It’s important to recognize that people who helped him are being rounded up and detained. People are being arrested,” McCain added.
“We’ve got to focus a lot of attention on them, as well. But first priority is to get him out of there and to the United States.”
The delicate diplomatic standoff over Chen’s move to seek sanctuary in the US embassy in Beijing and his later request to leave China, became fodder on the presidential campaign trail.
The president’s presumed White House rival, Mitt Romney suggested in a sharp critique last week that the administration had mishandled the Chen affair by allowing the dissident to leave the embassy before it was completely clear that he and his family faced no threat of retaliation and truly wanted to stay in China.
“This is a dark day for freedom and it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration. We are a place of freedom, here and around the world, and we should stand up and defend freedom wherever it is under attack,” Romney said last week.
But speaking on ABC television Sunday, President Barack Obama’s campaign strategist David Axelrod dismissed the criticism, saying “we want to help Mr Chen achieve his goal, which is to come here, and we want to do it in accordance with our values, and we want to be successful in doing that. And we’re making some progress in that regard,” Axelrod said.
He also leveled a swipe at Romney.
“What’s shameful is when presidential candidates are so craven to score political points that they speak irresponsibly on half-information at a time when the president is trying, and the administration is trying, to resolve a situation that is very, very sensitive and very difficult,” he said.