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Blind activist Chen Guangcheng: Chinese officials threatened my wife

Courtesy U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is seen holding the hand of U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke, right, in this photo released by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday.


Updated at 10:50 p.m. ET: BEIJING -- In a visit to China on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautioned China to protect human rights, the Associated Press reported.

Without mentioning Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident who sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing for six days, Clinton said, “all governments have to answer to our citizens’ aspirations for dignity and the rule of law and that no nation can or should deny those rights.”  

Only hours earlier, U.S. officials said they had extracted from the Chinese government a promise that Chen would join his family and be allowed to start a new life in a university town in China, safe from the rural authorities who had abusively held him in prison and house arrest for nearly seven years.

In her remarks, Clinton did not mention Chen by name, although she had spoken with him hours before when he left the embassy. In a statement she welcomed the resettlement as one that “reflected his choices and our values.”

This came after an interview Chen gave to the Associated Press on Wednesday from a hospital room in Beijing where he was taken for medical treatment, during which he said a U.S. official told him that Chinese authorities had threatened to beat his wife if he did not leave the embassy. He said he feared for his safety and wanted to leave.

In a separate interview with Britain's Channel 4 News, Chen said he wanted to go to any country that will take him and his family and added he's disappointed that American officials didn't stay at the hospital with him as he thought they would.

"Nobody from [the] embassy is here … I don't understand why. They promised to be here," he told Channel 4 News.

Chen also told NBC News that he asked the U.S. to take concrete steps to guarantee his safety.

The State Department denied much of the AP's account of what Chen said. 

The blind Chinese activist at the center of a diplomatic tug-of-war between Washington and Beijing left the U.S. Embassy Wednesday morning to receive medical care and be reunited with his family. NBC's Ian Williams reports.

"At no time did any U.S. official speak to Chen about physical or legal threats to his wife and children. Nor did Chinese officials make any such threats to us," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told NBC News.  

Chen was told his family would be sent back home if he stayed in the embassy, she said. 

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"At every opportunity, he expressed his desire to stay in China, reunify with his family, continue his education and work for reform in his country.  All our diplomacy was directed at putting him in the best possible position to achieve his objectives," Nuland added. 

Chen's plight has overshadowed high-level talks on economic and international issues due to begin Thursday. The United States hopes the negotiations will encourage greater Chinese cooperation on trade as well over Iran, Syria, North Korea and other international disputes.

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In what earlier appeared to be a deal to end the diplomatic tussle between the U.S. and China over his future, Chinese authorities promised he would be relocated to a safe environment where he could study at a university, a U.S. official said, speaking prior to Chen's comments.

Chen, who went to the embassy after making a daring escape from house arrest on April 21, ran afoul of local government officials in China for exposing forced abortions and other abuses. His dogged pursuit of justice and mistreatment by authorities brought him attention from the U.S. and foreign governments, and earned him supporters among many ordinary Chinese.

Chen may have been forced to accept what he's offered, according to Zeng Jinyan, a long-time friend of Chen's family and also a human rights activist. Zeng has been tweeting about Chen's latest situation since Wednesday evening, some in Chinese, some in English, according to NBC News.

Chinese crackdown on dissident's family and friends

According to Zeng, Chen was unwilling to leave the American embassy but had no choice because his wife and two children would be sent back to Shandong province if he insisted on staying. It is not known when and how they arrived in Beijing, but Chen's wife Yuan Weijing told Zeng that local government in Shandong province installed security cameras inside her home and moved in, waiting for her and the children if Chen didn't agree to leave the embassy. Yuan also said she was arrested on April 27th when they found out Chen has escaped.

Teng Biao, a lawyer who's been assisting Chen in the past few years, tweeted about his conversation with Chen Wednesday afternoon, asking Chen "I've heard you were threatened, is that true?" Chen said, "Yes, very true. People from the Foreign Ministry said this afternoon, if you didn't leave the embassy, your wife and children would have been sent back to Shandong." In the same conversation, Chen said the Shandong officials who escorted his family are still in Beijing.

Blind dissident’s case a 'hot potato' for US-China

Meanwhile, Chinese government is taking a more hard-lined attitude on the case, demanding an apology from the American government.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said: "It should be pointed out that Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese citizen, was taken by the U.S. side to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing via abnormal means, and the Chinese side is strongly dissatisfied with the move."

Jordan Pouille / AFP - Getty Images

Chinese activist activist Chen Guangcheng (left) is seen in a wheelchair pushed by a nurse at the Chaoyang hospital in Beijing Wednesday.

He stressed that China demands that the United States thoroughly investigate the event, hold relevant people accountable and ensure that such an event does not happen again. "What the U.S. side has done has interfered in the domestic affairs of China, and the Chinese side will never accept it," said the spokesman.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- who arrived in Beijing Tuesday ahead of the talks -- said that the case had been handled "in a way that reflected his choices and our values" -- comments made before Chen's remarks that he feared for his and his family's safety.

She said it was crucial to ensure that Beijing kept its pledge to leave him unmolested. "The United States government and the American people are committed to remaining engaged with Mr. Chen and his family in the days, weeks, and years ahead," Clinton added.

Chen's supporters said last Friday that he had escaped after 20 months of house arrest and gone into U.S. government protection.

More on Chen: Video reveals blind Chinese activist's plight

NBC News, msnbc.com staff, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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