* China and U.S. say Chen left embassy of his own accord
* Dissident said to have second thoughts after talking to
* Chen appeals to Obama to help family leave China
* China demands an apology for U.S. 'meddling'
By Andrew Quinn and Chris Buckley
BEIJING, May 2 Blind Chinese dissident Chen
Guangcheng appealed to President Barack Obama to help him escape
China with his family, telling journalists he feared for his
life just hours after leaving the U.S. Embassy under a deal that
Washington had hoped would defuse the crisis with Beijing.
Chen left the embassy on Wednesday after securing guarantees
that, according to U.S. officials, would have allowed him to
relocate within the country in safety with his family and pursue
his studies. He had been holed up in the embassy for six days
after escaping house arrest last month.
The deal was negotiated between the United States and China
in the days before a visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton, and U.S. officials had touted it as a sign of
the cooperative U.S.-China partnership.
But Chinese authorities took a tougher tone in the hours
after Chen left the embassy, immediately criticising what they
called U.S. meddling and demanding an apology for the way U.S.
diplomats handled the case.
Human rights groups warned the deal entailed some risk that
the Chinese authorities might not live up to the guarantees, and
Chen appeared to have a change of heart about his chances.
"I would like to say to President Obama, please do
everything you can to get our family out," Chen told CNN in a
phone interview, parts of which were broadcast on the network.
Within hours of his release to a Beijing hospital and being
reunited with his family, Chen gave interviews saying he feared
for his life after he learned that his wife had been bound and
beaten. CNN reporter Stan Grant said he spoke to Chen for 15 to
20 minutes in the early hours of Thursday and the activist felt
"let down" by the United States.
Grant said Chen told him that while he was at the U.S.
Embassy he was not given the full story. He had since spoken to
his wife who told him she was mistreated by Chinese authorities
and he now feared for his life.
Congressman Chris Smith, chair of a congressional panel on
China and a longtime supporter of Chen's cause, said he was told
by U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing early Wednesday that Chen
wanted to call him, but Smith never received a call.
Smith told Reuters that when he read U.S. media reports of
Chen saying "convey to Chris Smith, 'Help my family and I leave
safely,' the alarms and red flags went up."
Chen's friend Teng Biao tweeted that he had held six phone
conversations with Chen in the hospital on Wednesday night.
"Guangcheng's thinking at the outset was definitely that he
wanted to stay in China, but now it's very possible that his
thinking has changed," Teng posted on Twitter.
"I could clearly feel the change in his thinking.
Regardless of whether he left the embassy due to threat or for
another reason, now he clearly feels unsafe," wrote Teng.
In a Chinese-language transcript Teng posted online of their
phone calls, Teng quoted Chen as saying, "U.S. Embassy staff
promised they would continue to stay with me, but they have
already left. It's just us here now."
Chen is a self-schooled legal advocate who campaigned
against forced abortions under China's 'one child' policy. He
escaped 19 months of house arrest, during which he and his
family faced beatings and threats, in rural Shandong province on
CHINA DEMANDS APOLOGY
Earlier, U.S. officials said Chen left the embassy of his
own free will because he wanted to be reunited with his wife and
children. U.S. officials said that Chen wanted to remain in
China and that he never asked for asylum.
Chen's dramatic escape from house arrest last week and his
flight to the U.S. Embassy have made him a symbol of resistance
to China's shackles on dissent, and the deal struck by Beijing
and Washington would have kept him an international test case of
how tight or loose those restrictions remain.
Now, however, his apparent change of heart throws not only
his own future into doubt but also raises questions about the
wider U.S.-China relationship as the U.S. secretaries of state
and treasury arrived in Beijing for security and economic talks.
It could also prove politically costly for U.S. President
Barack Obama, who has already been accused of being soft on
China by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and who
could now face further criticism over Chen's case.
What initially appeared to be a foreign policy success for
the Obama administration -- defusing a problem that could have
harmed ties between the world's two largest economies -- could
quickly turn into a liability.
Clinton, who had arrived in Beijing for long-scheduled,
high-level economic and security talks hours before Chen's
departure from the U.S. Embassy, earlier hailed the agreement.
"I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen
Guangcheng's stay and departure from the U.S. Embassy in a way
that reflected his choices and our values," Clinton said.
"(Chen) has a number of understandings with the Chinese
government about his future, including the opportunity to pursue
higher education in a safe environment. Making these commitments
a reality is the next crucial task. 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."
The Chinese Foreign Ministry's first public reaction to
Chen's was anger. "The U.S. method was interference in Chinese
domestic affairs, and this is totally unacceptable to China.
China demands that the United States apologise over this,
thoroughly investigate this incident, punish those who are
responsible, and give assurances that such incidents will not
recur," ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a statement.
Bob Fu, the president of Texas-based religious and human
rights group, ChinaAid, said Chen agreed to leave the embassy
only because "serious threats to his immediate family members
were made by Chinese government" if he refused.
Fu of ChinaAid, which has been a key source of information
about Chen since his escape, said the group was very concerned
about reports that Chen's departure from the embassy was
involuntary. "Relevant reports show unfortunately the U.S. side
'has abandoned Mr Chen,'" Fu said in a statement.
U.S. officials denied that they had discussed any threats to
Chen's family, saying Chinese officials had not discussed any
threats with them, and said they had acted to secure his wish to
remain in China and continue his work.
"U.S. interlocutors did make clear that if Chen elected to
stay in the Embassy, Chinese officials had indicated to us that
his family would be returned to Shandong, and they would lose
their opportunity to negotiate for reunification," State
Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said
there were three choices when Chen came to the embassy: seeking
a U.S. visa and subsequently applying for asylum, negotiating
through the United States to stay in China or staying at the
U.S. mission in Beijing indefinitely.
A U.S. official earlier said that Chen had asked to make a
call to Clinton from the car while he was being driven to a
Beijing hospital, escorted by U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke. The
official quoted Chen as telling Clinton: "I want to kiss you."
Even that detail later came under question, as one of Chen's
associates denied he said this. The State Department, however,
said three U.S. officials heard Chen make the comment in
The drama over Chen threatens to overshadow this week's
Quite apart from the importance of developing ties between
the world's two largest economies, both governments are aware of
the impact the case could have on their domestic politics.
Later this year, U.S. President Barack Obama will seek a
second term, knowing that his Republican foes are already
accusing him of being too soft on China. They may now criticise
him for not doing enough to ensure the activist's safety.
Also later this year, China's ruling Communist Party will
bring in a new set of leaders, a normally well choreographed
process that has been wrong-footed by a scandal enveloping
senior leader Bo Xilai. That too was triggered after a senior Bo
aide sought refuge in a U.S. diplomatic mission.
Some analysts said that issue appears to have divided the
top leadership and may have upset hardliners who want to keep a
firm lid on anything they see as undermining party rule.