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.
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."