U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to China vowing to again raise human rights concerns at a time of tension between the countries over a blind Chinese dissident who recently escaped from house arrest. A U.S.-based China rights organization says Chen Guangcheng is under U.S. protection in Beijing.
President Barack Obama and Secretary Clinton Monday both refused to comment on the whereabouts of Chen Guangcheng or whether there are talks under way with Chinese officials about his future.
Clinton spoke to reporters at the State Department before leaving for Beijing. "I am not going to address the specific case at this time, but I just want to put it in a broader context. The U.S.-China relationship is important. It's important not only to President Obama and me, but it's important to the people of the United States and the world. And we have worked hard to build an effective, constructive, comprehensive relationship that allows us to find ways to work together," she said.
She says a constructive relationship includes talking frankly about areas where the United States and China 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," she said.
Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner lead Washington's delegation to an annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue between the United States and China, which this year is expected to include discussion of Syria, Sudan, and the nuclear programs of both North Korea and Iran.
But there is no ignoring how much Chen Guangcheng is overshadowing the start of those talks. State Department reporters again tried to get Secretary Clinton to comment on his case, this time asking about the detention of members of his family. "I have a full agenda of many issues of great concern to us including human rights and the freedom and free movement of people inside China who have a right to exercise those freedoms under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," she said.
Chen is a lawyer and activist who received a four-year jail sentence in 2006 after documenting abuses in China's policy on restricting the size of most families. Since 2010, he has been held under house arrest. He disappeared April 22 from a village in the eastern province of Shandong, although authorities did not realize he was missing until last Thursday.