Hours before she was scheduled to leave for China on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton avoided giving details about how the U.S. would address the plight of a blind Chinese dissident who escaped from house arrest.
U.S. officials have declined to confirm reports that activist and attorney Chen Guangcheng is under protection at the American Embassy in Beijing. His plight has been diplomatically dicey for the United States, which faces competing pressures to cooperate with China and press it to stop human rights abuses.
Clinton, who is heading to China on Monday night on a previously planned visit, declined to talk about the specifics of Chen's case. But she said the U.S. sought an “effective, constructive, comprehensive relationship” with China.
“A constructive relationship includes talking very frankly about those areas where we do not agree, including human rights,” she said when asked about Chen by a reporter.
The reporter pressed her again about the fate of other Chinese activists who are now facing detention. “I have nothing to add to what I’ve said at this time,” Clinton said.
President Obama also declined to comment on the Chen case Monday, as did State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. She did not answer questions about where Chen was, the fate of his family members, or whether the U.S. and the Chinese government were discussing his case.
Chen was jailed for four years after exposing forced sterilization, then placed under house arrest after his prison term was over. In a video message to Premier Wen Jiabao last week, Chen called on the Chinese leader to protect his family, punish people who had attacked them and combat corruption.
"If you continue to ignore this and do nothing, what will the people think?" Chen said.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta participate in a U.S.-Philippines meeting in Washington on Monday. After the meeting, Clinton took questions from reporters, including an inquiry about escaped Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. Credit: Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency