President Barack Obama avoided comment on Monday when asked by reporters whether the United States would offer political asylum to an escaped Chinese dissident. The president and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda held a news conference after meeting at the White House.
With high-level U.S.-China talks set to start on Thursday in Beijing, the president sidestepped the delicate issue of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.
The blind lawyer fled house arrest last week and is reported to have entered the protection of U.S. diplomats in Beijing.
Obama would not confirm that Chen is under U.S. protection or that American and Chinese diplomats are trying to negotiate an agreement for him to receive asylum.
“Obviously, I am aware of the press 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,” he said.
Analysts say the issue could have implications beyond the upcoming strategic and economic talks between Washington and Beijing. China has been cooperating with the United States on global economic issues, working to discourage North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and trying to prevent a war between Sudan and South Sudan.
Obama and Noda criticized North Korea’s recent failed missile launch. The president said he has tried to ensure that Pyongyang is punished for provocative behavior.
“The old pattern of provocation that then gets attention and somehow insists on the world purchasing good behavior from them - that that pattern is broken. What we said is that the more you engage in provocative acts, the more isolated you will become,” said Obama.
The Japanese leader said North Korea’s action undermined efforts to resolve the situation peacefully. Noda also called on the international community to work together to discourage Pyongyang from conducting nuclear tests.
Both leaders highlighted their agreement to move about 9,000 U.S. Marines from the Japanese island of Okinawa to other locations in the Pacific region.
Obama praised Noda and the Japanese people for their country’s recovery from the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that struck Japan more than a year ago. Noda thanked Americans for their support.