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September 19, 2017

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Obama will not confirm if Chinese activist being given US protection

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama Monday declined to confirm that Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng was holed up under U.S. protection in Beijing, but said human rights are a prime concern in Sino-U.S. ties.

"I am aware of the press reports on the situation in China," Obama said during a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, before adding: "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," Obama said.

"It is our belief that not only is that the right thing to do because it comports with our principles and our belief in freedom and human rights.

"But also because we actually think China will be stronger as it opens up and liberalizes its own system."

Obama's careful response hinted at the extreme sensitivity of the issue for crucial U.S.-China relations ahead of a visit this week to Beijing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

During a press conference later with senior Philippines officials, Clinton declined to comment on Chen's case "at this time" but said she would raise human rights during her talks in China.

"A constructive relationship includes talking very frankly about those areas where we do not agree, including human rights," the chief U.S. diplomat said.

"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.

Earlier, fellow dissident Hu Jia said that Chen was taking refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing but was not seeking asylum abroad.

Hu Jia also said Chinese security officials indicated that Chen had met U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke since his dramatic flight from house arrest.

Chen, a self-taught lawyer, fled house arrest in Shandong province on April 22 with the help of supporters from under the noses of dozens of guards and subsequently recorded a video alleging abuses against him and his family.

Since then, rumors have swirled that Chen had made it to safety in the U.S. embassy, but the embassy and State Department officials in Washington have refused to confirm or deny those claims.

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