US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in China on Wednesday for top-level talks that risk being upstaged by the fate of a blind dissident whose supporters say is under U.S. protection in Beijing after escaping house arrest, reports Reuters.
Washington has not even commented on the whereabouts of the dissident, legal activist Chen Guangcheng, whose plight has overshadowed the Strategic and Economic Dialogue due to begin on Thursday. The United States hopes the talks will encourage greater Chinese cooperation on trade as well over Iran, Syria, North Korea and other international disputes.
Chen's friends and supporters have said he is probably inside the fortress-like U.S. embassy in northeast Beijing.
The official silence about his fate from both Washington and Beijing has shown their eagerness to contain friction over his case. Relations could easily go awry, especially with the ruling Communist Party wrestling with a leadership scandal and a looming power succession.
"Of course, as the U.S. must realise, this does quite a lot of harm to China-U.S. relations," Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing said of Chen's reported flight into U.S. protection.
"In this situation, both sides want to restrict the impact of this (Chen) incident. But whether they can find a way to resolve the problem relatively quickly depends on how the dialogue and discussions go," Shi added.
Before leaving for China on Monday, Clinton promised to press China's leaders on human rights, an issue that has dropped down the agenda between the two countries in the more than two decades since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The annual talks give Washington a chance to push China to pressure Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programmes, halting Syria's crackdown on unarmed protesters and reducing tensions over disputed territories in the South China Sea.
But Beijing has been reluctant to back tougher international sanctions against Tehran and Pyongyang. It also worries that U.S. efforts to strengthen its presence in Asia have emboldened countries disputing Chinese claims in the South China Sea.
Washington is preoccupied with President Barack Obama's bid for re-election late this year, but ructions in Chinese domestic politics have dogged ties, causing the Obama administration to tread carefully in dealing with Beijing which faces a leadership succession late this year.