And he told the Daily Beast website he wanted to leave China with Clinton, who has repeatedly criticised Chen’s treatment in the past.

“My fervent hope is that it would be possible for me and my family to leave for the US on Hillary Clinton’s plane,” said Chen, who spoke to Clinton by telephone on Wednesday.

Chen’s flight came despite round-the-clock surveillance at his house in Shandong, where he has alleged that he and his family suffered severe beatings after he ended a four-year jail term in 2010.

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said there were serious concerns over whether the Chinese government would honour commitments it made to the US government not to persecute Chen.

“Not only does the Chinese government have an appalling track record on human rights, but Chen himself has also already reported receiving threats to his family’s safety by government officials,” she added.

At Thursday’s opening of the two-day “Strategic and Economic Dialogue", Clinton did not single out Chen, but told her Chinese hosts including President Hu Jintao that they cannot deny the “aspirations” of their citizens “for dignity and the rule of law”.

However, in his own opening remarks, Hu called for the United States and China to respect each other’s concerns and warned that any worsening of relations posed “grave” risks for the world.

Clinton on Wednesday said the United States remained “committed” to Chen and US officials said they had received assurances from China that the legal campaigner could be safely reunited with his family.

Despite Wednesday’s agreement, Beijing demanded that the United States apologise for what it called “interference” in its affairs.

No apology has been forthcoming from Washington, but Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said Chen’s flight to the embassy presented “an extraordinary circumstance with very unusual parameters, and we don’t expect it to be repeated”.

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