The US secretary of state has arrived in Beijing for an annual strategic and economic meeting. However, a diplomatic row over a dissident who escaped from house arrest last month is threatening to upstage the talks.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, where she is to scheduled to hold strategic and economic talks with Chinese officials on Thursday and Friday.
However, a brewing dispute over the fate of a Chinese is threatening to upstage the previously agreed agenda for the annual conference.
Chen Guancheng, a 40-year-old blind lawyer who exposed forced abortions and sterilizations as part of China's one-child policy, is thought to have found refuge inside the US embassy in Beijing since escaping from house arrest 10 days ago.
There has been no official confirmation from US authorities that he is actually in the embassy compound. US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell arrived in Beijing several days before Clinton, amid speculation that he was to attempt to defuse the row prior to her visit.
President Barack Obama dodged the issue when asked about the Chen case at a Washington press conference on Monday.
"Obviously, I'm aware of the press reports on the situation in China, but I'm not going to make a statement on the issue," Obama said. "Every time we meet with China the issue of human rights comes up."
Chinese media commentary
Chinese officials have also declined to comment on the case, but the Global Times, which is an offshoot of the Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper, played down the significance of the dispute.
"China-US relations should not be affected by the Chen Guangcheng incident," the paper wrote. It also played down the importance of Chen's role as a dissident. However, it warned against foreign powers meddling in the country's internal affairs.
"The development of human rights in China can only come from within China itself. The West has no power to continue to push China in the human rights sphere," the paper said.
Apart from the dissident dispute, Clinton, was expected to use the visit to push China to put more pressure on the regime of Bashar al-Assad to comply with a UN-Arab League cease-fire in Syria. She was also expected to push Beijing to back tougher international sanctions against North Korea and Iran over their nuclear programs.
pfd/ncy (AP, dpa, Reuters)