BEIJING — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived today in Beijing, where a tense human rights showdown awaits over the fate of a blind Chinese lawyer said to be under U.S. protection after escaping from house arrest.
The issue of Chen Guangcheng's future threatens to overshadow this year's round of high-level strategic and economic talks between the world's two biggest economic powers. Those talks, which include Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, begin Thursday.
Publicly, the U.S. and Chinese governments have said nothing about the Chen case. Neither side wants the biggest human rights issue between the two since Tiananmen Square to damage a working relationship.
Clinton's only listed event today before the talks begin on Thursday is a dinner with Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo. Aides traveling with her declined to discuss the Chen case.
Chen, a 40-year-old lawyer who exposed forced abortions and sterilizations as part of China's one-child policy, escaped house arrest and was delivered into the protection of U.S. diplomats in Beijing last week, according to fellow activists. They say American and Chinese officials are intensely discussing his fate, which could mean getting political asylum in the United States or staying in China, which Chen has told some activists he prefers.
Questioned on Chen's future, President Barack Obama on Monday dodged the issue at a Washington news conference, declining to confirm that he was under U.S. protection in China or that American diplomats were attempting to negotiate an agreement for him to receive asylum.
The Obama administration has signaled that the global economy, North Korea, Iran and Sudan are more important in U.S.-Chinese relations.