US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to arrive in China on Tuesday, as the fate of recently-escaped activist Chen Guangcheng hangs in the balance between the two nations, CBS News reported.
Chen, a prominent Chinese dissident who escaped from house arrest and is allegedly taking refuge at Beijing's US Embassy, has created significant tension ahead of the countries' two-day meetings scheduled for Thursday.
At a press conference on Tuesday, President Barack Obama remained mum on Chen's whereabouts, CNN reported.
"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. "What I would like to emphasize is that every time we meet with China, the issue of human rights comes up. It is our belief that not only is that the right thing to do, because it comports with our principles and our belief in freedom and human rights, but also because we actually think China will be strong as it opens up and liberalizes its own system."
Clinton promised to be firm on human rights with China's leaders during her visit, despite the lack of discussion between the two nations about the issue in the more than two decades since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the National Post reported.
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Clinton has also been avoiding answering questions about the blind dissident, but hinted that she would not back down from matter during her talks in Beijing.
“A constructive relationship includes talking very frankly about those areas where we do not agree, including human rights,” Clinton said, according to the National Post.
Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had long planned to visit China for the annual meeting between the world's two largest economies, but the talks have been overshadowed by Guangcheng's plight, which has been censored heavily online by Chinese authorities, Bangkok Post reported.
"The question is whether in China this turns into a political football in a very political season," Kenneth Lieberthal, an expert on China and a former aide to president Bill Clinton, told Bangkok Post. "I think it's more likely to be resolved [...], but you never can predict this stuff."
Chen’s fellow activists initially said that Chen did not want to leave China as a political refugee, hoping instead to stay in the country and continue his advocacy, according to the Christian Science Monitor. By Monday, however, sources close to Chen were suggesting the activist had moved his focus to negotiating his departure from China and his family's fate, the Monitor reported.
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