Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may soon be checking into the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. According to the UK's Telegraph, her plane has already arrived at Beijing's Capital Airport.
If reports from U.S.-based human rights groups are correct, that means she may soon have occasion to meet Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. U.S.-based human rights group ChinaAid claims that the U.S. Embassy is harboring Chen. The White House and State Department have both been careful not to mention any specifics about the situation.
Focusing intensely on the recent escape of Chen from house arrest in his home town in Shandong province may create a major snag in this year's Strategic and Economic Dialogue between the U.S. and China. The forum for high-level discussion was created by U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao in 2009 to serve as a means to share varied opinions and viewpoints on a broad range of important commercial, political, and military issues between the two countries.
Before leaving for China on Monday evening, Clinton said the "U.S.-China relationship is important ... to the people of the United States and the world, and we've worked hard to build an effective, constructive, comprehensive relationship that allows us to find ways to work together."
She added that "a constructive relationship includes talking very frankly about those areas where we do not agree, including human rights. That is the spirit that is guiding me as I take off for Beijing tonight, and I can certainly guarantee that we will be discussing every matter, including human rights, that is pending between us."
North Korea, the South China Sea, trade disputes, Taiwan, and Syria are just part of the list of other issues that both countries must confront during this round of diplomatic talks.
A video released by Chen, directly addressing Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, was released on YouTube on Monday. Chinese media has carried zero coverage of him or his disappearance.
A search of his name on Chinese video hosting service Youku revealed an interview from Chinese journalist and TV commentator Sima Nan, who criticized Chen as a political puppet in the U.S.' attempts to humiliate China.
Sima said that "information on the Chen Guangcheng case was created on purpose... in order to goad netizens." "This is a part of the war of soft power the U.S. is waging against China," he warned.
Responding to reporters inquiring about Chen on Tuesday, Obama said: "Obviously, I am aware of reports on the situation in China. But I am not going to make a statement on the issue. 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."
The Obama Administration may feel pressured to walk a fine line between trying to repair a bilateral relationship fraught with new challenges and responding to political opponents at home who are eager to claim that the president has been too soft on China.
Human rights activists in China and the U.S. reported that Chen escaped from house arrest on April 22 and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Non-governmental organization representatives in China said Chen would resist being sent to the U.S. and was adamant about remaining in China to continue his fight against corruption and illegal practices.
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