Hillary Rodham Clinton in her new book passionately defends her role in the release of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, criticising Republican assertions that the US pressured him.
She also presented veiled criticism of Chen's behaviour amid the delicate process of securing his release, saying that he seemed keener to talk to reporters than US diplomats working on his behalf.
In Hard Choices, the former secretary of state and potential presidential contender credited US efforts to nurture relations with China with allowing an atmosphere in which Beijing eventually allowed the blind activist to move to the US.
Clinton credited her assistant secretary of state for East Asia, the flamboyant academic Kurt Campbell, with his role in the episode and said at one point he volunteered to resign when the talks almost fell apart.
Chen, who enraged Chinese authorities by exposing forced abortions and sterilisations under the one-child-only policy, escaped from house arrest in April 2012 and fled to Beijing. There he made his way to the US embassy days ahead of a visit by Clinton.
The US arranged an agreement with Beijing in which Chen would be allowed to study in China, receive medical treatment and file complaints over the beatings he said he suffered.
But the deal triggered an uproar in Washington, as Chen told a congressional hearing by telephone he was afraid for his safety by remaining in China. "It was like throwing fuel on the political fire," Clinton said of Chen's remarks, saying that her aides had negotiated the initial deal in accordance with the activist's own wishes.
"While Chen seemed to be talking easily with every reporter and activist from Beijing to Washington, no one at the embassy could reach him on the cellphone that, ironically, we had provided," Clinton wrote.
Clinton said she moved to counter "breathless news reports" that the United States refused him asylum and blamed "election-year politics", criticising Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whose campaign said that the Chen case marked "a dark day for freedom".
Clinton said that Dai Bingguo , then state councillor and considered the force behind China's foreign policy, had told the US they "had made a big mistake in trusting Chen" and called him a "manipulative criminal".
But Clinton said she wanted to comply with Chen's wishes and told Dai she faced a "political firestorm" over the case.
Clinton said her deputy, William Burns, initially persuaded Chinese diplomats to resolve the case by arguing it was best to "put this whole incident behind us" so that top leaders could hold scheduled US-China talks without getting involved.
Chen ultimately came to the United States to study and has emerged as an outspoken critic of China. Clinton said that her decision to send embassy officials out to retrieve Chen and offer him refuge when he first turned up at the US mission in Beijing "wasn't a close call".
"Our defence of universal human rights is one of America's greatest sources of strength.
"The image of Chen, blind and injured, seeking through that dangerous night for the one place he knew stood for freedom and opportunity - the embassy of the United States - reminds us of our responsibility to make sure our country remains the beacon for dissidents and dreamers all over the world."
Additional reporting by The Washington Post