US & Canada

Chen: China democracy 'slow but irreversible'

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Media captionChen Guangcheng spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York

Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, in his first major public appearance in the US, has said democratic change in China is slow but irreversible.

He sparked diplomatic tensions when he escaped house arrest and fled to the US embassy in Beijing in April.

The blind campaigner arrived in New York to study a fortnight ago.

"Many people, they want to move that mountain in one week. That's not realistic. We have to move it bit by bit and move it by ourselves," he said.

After Mr Chen left the embassy and sought treatment for an injury in a Beijing hospital, the diplomatic tussle over his future intensified.

Eventually the Chinese authorities allowed him to leave the country to study at New York University School of Law, a decision that he described as "unprecedented".

"Regardless of what they did in the past, as long as they are beginning to move in the right direction we should affirm it," he said.

In his speech at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, Mr Chen expressed particular concern about the rule of law in China and warned it was being trampled on.

While he said he was confident that the central government was ready to reform, he warned: "Some local authorities, they are very backward and I think it's going to take more time to change them".

He spoke of his concern about members of his family still in China - particularly his nephew who has been charged with attempted murder after injuring people who broke into his house.

He said that if local authorities were not forced to respect the law then the central powers could "lose control".

But he was optimistic that the internet age meant it was much harder for authorities to cover things up and was forcing them to loosen their grip.

He urged Western powers to try harder to promote the rule of law but warned they should not force China to copy their own democracies. "We also need to learn eastern democracy," he added.

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