US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for talks with Chinese leaders that risk being overshadowed by the case of an activist said to be under US protection.
Her visit comes at a highly sensitive time for US-China relations, with the US embassy in Beijing said to be protecting the blind rights campaigner Chen Guangcheng, who fled house arrest last week.
Clinton has repeatedly criticised China's treatment of Chen, who escaped from his heavily guarded home on April 22 with the help of supporters and subsequently recorded a video alleging abuses against him and his family.
Chen, a 40-year-old self-taught lawyer, has said his house arrest was punishment for defiantly continuing to speak out about official abuses, and that he and his family had suffered beatings and other brutal treatment.
US officials have kept an unusually solid wall of secrecy over his case in an indication of the sensitivity of the issue.
Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had long planned to go to Beijing for the annual two-day meeting between the world's two largest economies.
Before the Chen case, Washington had hoped to showcase small signs of progress in relations with China at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which takes place Thursday and Friday.
Largely in response to inflationary pressure, China has let its yuan appreciate. Currency levels have been a long source of friction, with US lawmakers charging that Beijing keeps the value of the yuan artificially low to flood the world with cheap exports.
On other sore points, China has in recent weeks reduced imports of oil from Iran, spoken out -- albeit cautiously -- against a rocket launch by North Korea and supported a peace plan for Syria after joining Russia in vetoing two UN resolutions.© ANP/AFP