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As China welcomed US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with a demand for an apology over harbouring blind dissident Chen Guangcheng, Clinton issued a statement snubbing the Chinese government.
"I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng's stay and departure from the US embassy in a way that reflects his choices and our values. I was glad to have the chance to speak with him and to congratulate him on being reunited with his wife and children," Clinton said.
The Chinese government reportedly demanded an apology for sheltering the blind activist in the US embassy in China. He fled house arrest and stayed in the embassy for six days, before leaving for medical treatment.
"Mr 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," Clinton added.
The Chinese foreign ministry responded strongly. "What the US side should do now is stop misleading the public and making every excuse to shift responsibility and conceal its wrongdoing. Nor should it interfere in the domestic affairs of China," China Daily quoted a foreign ministry spokesperson as saying.
"[The US side] should learn from the incident a serious and responsible attitude and reflect its own policy and moves and should take necessary measures to prevent a similar incident from happening again and maintain the overall situation of China-US relations," the spokesperson added.
Clinton is on an annual visit to China where she was expected to discuss strategic and economic issues with the country. Chen's human rights are dominating the discussions.
Clinton, without mentioning the activist's name directly in her speech, said: "The United States believes that no state can legitimately deny the universal rights that belong to every human being - or punish those who exercise them," reported the BBC.
"A China that protects the rights of all its citizens will be stronger, more prosperous partner for the United States," Clinton added.
Chinese President Hu Jintao, who seeks to play down the differences, responded: "We should properly manage the differences by improving mutual understanding so these differences will not undermine the larger interests of China-US relations," according to a BBC report.
Chen also pleaded that he be allowed to leave China citing the safety of his family and his own life.
According to Reuters, he called up the news agency and said: "I feel very unsafe. My rights and safety cannot be assured here." He added that his family was backing him to leave for the United States.
Also in an interview to The Daily Beast, Chen said: "My fervent hope is that it would be possible for me and my family to leave China for the US on Hillary Clinton's plane."