China has said blind activist Chen Guangcheng can apply to study abroad, suggesting an end may be near to a diplomatic crisis that has caused a strain in relations between Beijing and Washington.
"If he wants to study abroad, he can apply through normal channels to the relevant departments in accordance with the law, just like any other Chinese citizen," Liu Weimin, foreign ministry spokesman, said in a brief statement on Friday.
Even as the foreign ministry statement announced the slight concession, Chen remained in a guarded Beijing hospital ward, unable to see US officials.
"I can only tell you one thing. My situation right now is very dangerous," Chen was quoted by Associated Press as saying.
"For two days, American officials who have wanted to come and see me have not been allowed in."
The announcement by the Chinese foreign ministry follows a public appeal by Chen, who spoke by phone to a US congressional hearing on his case, asking to be allowed to spend some time in the US.
"I want to come to the US to rest. I have not had a rest in 10 years," Chen said, his comments made on a mobile telephone that was held up to a microphone at the hearing.
"I'm concerned most right now with the safety of my mother and brothers. I really want to know what's going on with them."
'Leave with Clinton'
News agencies citing the Daily Beast website said Chen wanted to leave China on the plane of Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, who is in Beijing for talks with Chinese leaders.
"My fervent hope is that it would be possible for me and my family to leave for the US on Hillary Clinton's plane," Chen said.
The controversy has overshadowed Clinton's Beijing trip. The secretary of state assured Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, that relations between the two countries are the strongest they had ever been.
The crisis erupted last week when Chen sought refuge in the US embassy. He stayed there for six days until Wednesday, when US officials took him to a Beijing hospital after assurances from the Chinese government that he and his family would receive better treatment.
The activist, who has been receiving treatment for a broken foot sustained during his escape, said US officials had left him alone there with his family, although he said he expected them to stay with him.
"Gary Locke, Campbell and the others took me to the hospital, but they have all left," he said, referring to US Ambassador Locke and senior diplomat Kurt Campbell.
Al Jazeera's John Terrett, reporting from Washington, DC, said it was unclear whether the US would allow Chen to leave with Clinton.
He said Beijing was angry with Washington for meddling in its domestic affairs and that it had sought an apology, though there were slim chances the US would apologise.
Chinese media criticised Washington for using Chen to demonise China.
"The fact that the US brought up the issue of Chen Guangcheng does not mean that the US really has any good will, but that it is full of desires to put on a show,'' the Beijing Times said.
Earlier, Chen told Al Jazeera that he feared for his safety: "The agreement between the US and China guaranteeing my safety has not been fully honoured."
Chen described the situation in his house as "very bad", saying authorities have installed seven cameras and that there are police in his home.
"There are lots of people there. They eat at my dining table, use my furniture. The situation isn't good. They also want to install an electric fence," Chen said of his home in Dongshigu Village in Shandong province.
The activist got in trouble with the Chinese authorities after his criticism of planning officials whom he accused of forcing thousands of women to have abortions or be sterilised as part of China's one-child policy.
Meanwhile, during talks in Beijing, Clinton pressed China on human rights but avoided mention of Chen, focusing on North Korea and Iran.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies