Blind Chinese activist Chen planning Taiwan visit

TAIPEI (AFP) - Blind Chinese lawyer and activist Chen Guangcheng hopes to visit Taiwan in June, a rights group said on Friday, as the island's government said a visit could help facilitate understanding with China.

Mr Chen and his family plans to arrive in Taipei on June 23 for a 20-day visit, according to the Taipei-based Taiwan Association for Human Rights, which has organised the trip.

"Primarily Chen will meet with people from the Taipei lawyers' association and advocates who have dedicated themselves to the island's judicial reforms," Mr Yang Sen-hong, the head of the rights group, told AFP.

The 41-year-old has been living in New York since May last year after a dramatic escape from house arrest to the US embassy in Beijing.

The office of President Ma Ying-jeou said it had not formed an official position on the planned visit, but Taiwan's top China policy decision-making body, the Mainland Affairs Council, reacted positively to the proposal.

"We welcome any visit to Taiwan by people from the Chinese mainland as long as they can apply for entry with the authorities according to the regulations. We believe such visit will help facilitate understanding between the two sides," the organisation said in a statement.

Mr Chen has no plans to meet political figures during the trip, Mr Yang said.

"He is interested in how Taiwan has revised its laws in the process of democratisation, and he feels the experience of Taiwan may be used as a key reference to push for China's reform once he is allowed to return to Beijing."

Mr Chen will be accompanied by Mr Jerome Cohen, a professor at New York University School of Law who is a good friend of the activist, Mr Yang said.

Sentenced to more than four years in prison in 2006 after exposing abuses in China's one-child policy, Mr Chen was subsequently placed under house arrest upon his release in September 2010.

After his escape to the US embassy in Beijing, which highlighted China's long-criticised human rights record, high-level negotiations between US and Chinese officials hashed out an arrangement allowing Mr Chen to move to the United States.

China still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting unification, with the two sides splitting in 1949 after a civil war.

Ties have improved markedly since Mr Ma came to power in 2008 on a Beijing-friendly platform. He was re-elected in January 2012.

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