Chen Guangcheng: Chinese Dissident Says U.S. Let Him Down

PHOTO: Chen Guangcheng, right, stands with his wife and son Chen Kerui outside their home in Dondshigu village, Shandong province, in this 2005 file photo.PlaySTR/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH Blind Chinese Activist Abandoned by US?

Chen Guangcheng, the blind human rights activist who made a daring escape from house arrest and was widely believed to be under the protection of the U.S. embassy in Beijing, said the U.S. has let him down and does not know what he will do after he leaves a hospital.

Chen sought medical treatment at Chaoyang Hospital after being told that Chinese officials would have killed his wife had he remained at the embassy, according to the Associated Press.

Chen told the AP by telephone Wednesday from his hospital room in Beijing that U.S. officials delivered the threat from the Chinese side.

A U.S. official denied knowledge of a threat to beat Chen's wife to death, but said a shaken Chen was told his family would be sent back home if he stayed in the embassy, according to the AP.

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

"If I can get out of China I will," Chen told ABC News.

Chen said U.S. officials who are trying to visit him are being blocked by "the Chinese side" outside the hospital.

Earlier, U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, Harold Koh, legal adviser to the Department of State, and Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for Asian and Pacific Asian Affairs, had escorted Chen to the hospital.

Chen's first phone call upon leaving the embassy was to Clinton, who had arrived in Beijing hours earlier to attend an annual meeting on strategic and economic affairs, according to State Department officials. "I want to kiss you," he told her in broken English.

Clinton said in a statement, "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. I was glad to have the chance to speak with him today and to congratulate him on being reunited with his wife and children."

Outside Chaoyang hospital, Jian Tianyong, a human rights lawyer and friend of Chen, said he received a phone call from Chen, 40, once he had arrived at the hospital. Jian said Chen is still in bad health and has been in need of medical attention for several years. U.S. officials confirmed he received preliminary treatment at the embassy that would continue at the hospital.

News of his whereabouts caps off days of intense speculation and a game of diplomatic cat and mouse; neither the United States nor China would comment on his location or acknowledge his escape.

The unexpected diplomatic crisis came at a sensitive time. The United States is seeking wider Chinese support on issues expected to be raised at this week's meetings in Beijing, such as nuclear non-proliferation in North Korea and Iran. The White House is also defending accusations by Republicans that President Obama's foreign policy is "soft" on China.

At the same time, the United States has long called for human rights reform in China. As recently as November, Clinton specifically called for Chen's freedom while criticizing China's treatment of political activists.

Top level officials on both sides were locked in intense debate over Chen's future for days, spending sleepless nights debating possible outcomes. What has emerged is the story of a dramatic escape and an unprecedented outcome for a case of this kind in China.

From the beginning, Chen has remained focused on staying in China. There had been widespread speculation that Chen went to the U.S. Embassy to seek asylum. But dissident sources, including friend and fellow activist Hu Jia, refuted that, insisting the Chen knew if he left China his ability to continue his work against corruption would be diminished. U.S. officials affirmed that today by saying that Chen expressed determination and hope to stay in China and he never varied from it.

That presented a difficult challenge for both sides. How could the United States release Chen into China's custody while honoring its call for human rights reform (and not appear "soft") and also secure a guarantee of Chen's safety that would not rankle the leadership, thereby compromising negotiations? There is no precedent for such a case between the two countries, which is what makes the outcome announced today so unique.

China is allowing Chen to be relocated to a safe environment so that he may attend a university of his choosing at which to study," according to U.S. officials.

U.S. Officials say Chinese officials have agreed to look into the abuses Chen says have been committed against him and his family by local authorities in Shandong for years. The United States will be able to maintain contact with Chen to ensure that the Chinese promises are being upheld.

The pledge to investigate crimes against him and his family is a point Chen raised in a direct plea to Premier Wen Jiabao in a video uploaded to YouTube hours before he entered the embassy. Chen prevailed upon his government to rid the country of the corrupt officials who committed abuse against him and others.

It was a savvy if not pre-mediated move; it opened the door for Beijing to distance itself from the local authorities much like it has done in dealing with the Bo Xilai scandal. In that case, a corrupt government official in charge of Chongqing province was removed from office when a scandal involving his wife and the killing of a British citizen erupted around him. His former right-hand man, Wang Lijun, sought assistance at the U.S. Embassy but later left of his own accord, according to both sides.

But whereas Wang, who has been placed on "vacation style treatment" and has not been seen or heard from in weeks, is soundly part of the regime, Chen is decidedly outspoken against it.

Officials said Chen entered the embassy under exceptional circumstances April 26. Because of his visual impairment, he was given assistance on humanitarian grounds and was allowed to stay on a temporary basis. Chen's foot had also been injured in his escape, possibly broken.

Hu Jia, his friend, said Chen had to evade eight layers of security surrounding his home and travel for 20 hours to reach a rendezvous point where a supporter, He Peirong, drove him to Beijing. When he arrived at the car, he was, in Hu's words, "bloody, soaking wet and trembling."

He would arrive in Beijing and spend several nights moving from safe-house to safe-house to evade capture.

U.S. officials would not confirm further details of his entry into the embassy. But dissident sources say that the underground activist network became aware that the police knew Chen was in Beijing and were closing in. The only safe place for him, they convinced him, was the U.S. Embassy.

U.S. officials described Chen as a warm and inviting person who would often hold one of their hands when speaking with them about his concerns for the future. Over the course of a few days, the team in Beijing worked closely with Clinton and the Chinese to find a way forward. Officials have said they believe the dialogue that occurred between the two countries was entirely unique. U.S. officials believe the agreement reached with the Chinese will give Chen a better life and future.

But in a news conference with reporters, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China is demanding an apology from the United States. Liu would not elaborate on the deal as the Chinese view it, only to say that Chen spent a total of six days at the embassy and left of his own volition. The United States, he suggested, should take time to reflect on its own policies and practices and "take concrete actions to safeguard the overall situation of Sino-U.S. relations."

Chen first came to international attention in 2005 for exposing the abortions and forced sterilizations of women in China's rural communities as part of the country's One Child Policy. He was sentenced in 2006 to more than four years in prison for likely trumped up charges of disturbing public disorder.

Upon his release, he was placed under extrajudicial house arrest at his home in Dongshigu. Chen made a daring escape April 22 from what he has described in videos released online as a brutal house arrest in Shandong Province.

The whereabouts of He Peirong, the young activist who drove Chen to Beijing, remain unknown. Sources in the dissident community say she was last heard from April 27 and is believed to be in police custody. The United States is urging China to take no retribution against people like He who helped him.

From a brutal and isolating house arrest where his voice was silenced, U.S. officials say, Chen will now be just like any other: A regular student, with an extraordinary journey behind him.

ABC News Beijing bureau intern Tina Chen contributed to this report.