Tiananmen Dissident's New Challenge

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For China, the release of a dissident such as Wang Dan is a gift to the West, in exchange for political favors to Beijing. And the political cost of such a gift may be pretty cheap, says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "Once a dissident leaves China, they lose all influence back home," says Dowell. "The offer of release into exile sparks a huge emotional crisis for many dissidents, who feel that choosing to leave is like choosing to give up. Some even opt instead to stay in prison."

Wang's release came as no surprise in Washington, where a number of concessions had been expected in return for the White House decision earlier this year not to sponsor a United Nations human rights resolution critical of China. With U.S.-China relations at their warmest since the Tiananmen Square massacre, Wang Dan may find freedom in exile a challenge far more complex than coping with six years in Beijing's dungeons.