BEIJING, May 3 (UPI) -- Activist Chen Guangcheng pleaded for help Thursday to leave China with his family, as a U.S. deal with Beijing unraveled shortly after he left the U.S. Embassy.
Chen, a self-taught lawyer who is blind, told several Western news organizations he wanted to leave China, preferably for the United States, because "guaranteeing citizens' rights in China is empty talk."
Chen, who had injured his foot while fleeing house arrest April 22, told The New York Times by phone from a hospital room early Thursday he left the embassy on his own volition Wednesday after Beijing guaranteed his rights would be protected.
But he also said he had felt pressure to cooperate because U.S. officials had told him Chinese officials had threatened to beat his wife to death if he remained under U.S. protection.
State Department officials disputed the assertion, saying they'd passed along a Chinese message that Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, would be sent back to the coastal Shandong province, from which Chen escaped, if he remained under U.S. care and that American officials could do nothing to ensure her safety there.
Chen told CNN by phone he feared for his life and felt "let down" by Washington so far and appealed to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to intervene to ensure his safe passage out of the country.
U.S. and Chinese officials had been eager to resolve the issue before high-level talks convened Thursday between Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and their Chinese counterparts.
Clinton did not take part in the negotiations with Beijing that led to Chen's leaving the U.S. Embassy.
Once Chen left the embassy, China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Washington's role in the incident was "totally unacceptable to China."
The statement insisted Washington apologize and punish officials involved in taking Chen into American protection.
U.S. officials told The Washington Post the United States would not apologize to China, describing U.S. actions in the case as "lawful."
When the high-level U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue talks began Thursday, Clinton shortened her opening remarks to say "all governments" must answer their "citizens' aspirations for dignity and the rule of law and that no nation can or should deny those rights."
She did not mention Beijing or Chen by name.
Her original remarks included that the United States would "look to China to meet its international obligations to protect universal human rights and fundamental freedoms."
Chinese President Hu Jintao said separately Beijing and Washington have an obligation to "prove that the traditional belief that big powers are bound to enter into confrontation and conflicts is wrong" and that they should be committed to a "cooperative partnership."
Before the Chen deal unraveled, U.S. State Department officials said Chinese officials had agreed to let Chen start a new life of freedom in Tianjin, a port city near the capital, where he could study law and live with his family.