Beijing: A diplomatic row over a blind Chinese dissident overshadowed the inaugural meeting of the annual China-US strategic dialogue here after he sought American asylum for himself and his family over fears that "anything could happen" to them if they remained in the country.
The controversy over Chen Guangcheng refused to die down today, a day after he left the US embassy after being holed up there for almost a week.
Chen was yesterday driven to a hospital by American Ambassador Garry Locke, and reunited with his family, drawing a scathing reaction from China that demanded an apology over what it perceived was US interference in its affairs.
As the US and China started their annual strategic dialogue in the presence of Hillary Clinton, Chen made an open appeal to the visiting US Secretary of State to grant a political asylum to him and family, even expressing a desire "to leave on Hillary`s plane".
"I want them (US officials) to protect human rights through concrete actions," Chen told CNN from his hospital room here.
"We are in danger. If you can talk to Hillary, I hope she can help my whole family leave China".
Chen had a telephone conversation with Clinton before he left the US Embassy, stirring up a serious diplomatic row between the two countries ahead of the fourth Strategic and Economic Dialogue (SED), the annual mechanism for the two big powers to discuss bilateral and global issues.
The incident which was perceived to be an embarrassment for China turned out to be a loss of face for Washington as well, as human rights groups accused it of leaving the activist in the lurch with sweet words.
US officials said they would continue to help Chen where
possible, but stressed that the decision to leave the embassy was his own.
"I can tell you unequivocally that he was never pressured to leave. He was excited and eager about leaving," Locke told the media.
State Department Spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, said "at no point during his time in the Embassy did Chen ever request political asylum in the US".
"At every opportunity, he expressed his desire to stay in China, reunify with his family, continue his education and work for reform in his country".
Chen, on his part, said he did not fully grasp what he was facing when he agreed to abandon the embassy.
"At the time, I didn`t have a lot of information," he said adding that he felt that his life and that of his wife, Yuan Weijing, would be in danger if he were to remain in the country. "Anything could happen," he said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Weimin stonewalled questions on Chen, pointing to his statements yesterday demanding US to apologise for sheltering the activist which he said constituted interference in China`s affairs.
The issue figured briefly though indirectly at the inaugural meeting of the SED when Chinese negotiator Dai Bingguo said that no one should expect the Chinese people to leave their own path.
Skirting the issue, Chinese President Hu Jintao who inaugurated the dialogue called both countries to work a "new type of relationship" to break the traditional belief that big powers only have conflicts.
"Whatever changes may take place in the world and no matter how the domestic situations in our two countries may evolve, China and US should be firmly committed to advancing the cooperative partnership and build a new type of relation between major countries that is reassuring to peoples from both the countries and the world," Hu said.
The two countries should think creatively to build such a new type of relationship, Hu said.
In a candid speech, Clinton said the China-US relationship has grown closer and more consequential, and the web of connections that link the two nations is increasing.
"I think it`s fair to say China and the United States cannot solve all the problems of the world, but without our cooperation, it is doubtful any problem can be solved," she said, referring to issues relating to Iran, Syria and North Korea.
"No global player can afford to treat geopolitics as a zero-sum game, so we are working to build a relationship that allows both of our countries to flourish without unhealthy competition or conflict, while at the same time meeting our responsibilities to our people and to the international community," she said.
"We both know that we have to get this right because so much depends upon it. We also both know that our countries have become thoroughly, inescapably interdependent," she said.
She is scheduled to address media here tomorrow at the end of the talks before leaving from Bangladesh followed by India.
Dai said: "The 1.3 billion Chinese people have the right to take a development path different from that of the United States and other western countries, a path that truly suits China`s national conditions and benefits not only the Chinese people but also the whole world".
US Secretary of Treasury, Timothey Geithner said US exports to China have doubled since early 2009.
The Chinese investment in the United States has increased five-fold from 2005-2010.
On the currency issue he said "a stronger, more market- determined renminbi will help reinforce China`s reform objectives of moving to higher value-added production, reforming the financial system, and encouraging domestic demand.
"It will provide China the independence and flexibility to respond to future changes in growth and inflation," he said.