By Jamie Klatell - 05/20/12 11:12 AM EDT
Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng arrived in the United States with his family on Saturday.
"I am very gratified to see that the Chinese government has been dealing with the situation with restraint and calm," the human rights activist said to reporters, through a translator, shortly after his arrival in New York City. “I hope to see that they continue to open discourse and earn the respect and trust of the people.”
Chen briefly caused a diplomatic crisis after making a daring escape last month to the U.S. embassy in China, before returning to a Chinese hospital. Chen said he feared retribution from the Chinese government and sought to live abroad in the United States.
After days of negotiations, Chinese officials said they would allow him to apply for a visa to study overseas, a path taken by many Chinese citizens to leave the country.
The Chen incident briefly caused a headache for the Obama administration, as senior administration officials pushed back against the impression that it had abandoned the blind dissident.
But on Saturday, White House officials said they were pleased that Chen had left China for the U.S. and that Beijing had worked with the State Department to allow his departure.
White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Saturday that Obama administration officials "welcome this development and the fact that he'll be able to pursue a course of study here upon his arrival."
"We're pleased this has reached a resolution," said Rhodes at a briefing at Camp David.
Chen’s safety quickly became a campaign issue, with GOP rival Mitt Romney hammering the administration and suggesting they had abandoned the rights activist in China.
On Saturday, Romney welcomed Chen to the U.S. “I am heartened and relieved that Chen Guangcheng and his family are on their way to the United States and out of China,” the presumptive Republican nominee said, in a statement.
“I commend the U.S. diplomats and officials who worked to ensure that the Chinese government followed through on its commitments. This episode underscores the need for the United States to forthrightly stand up for the human rights of the Chinese people.”
This story was published on May 19 at 6:09 p.m. and has been updated.
Meghashyam Mali contributed.