WASHINGTON — The blind Chinese lawyer at the center of a diplomatic storm between Washington and Beijing is a taboo topic in each capital.
Neither side wants the biggest human-rights issue between the two since Tiananmen Square to disrupt high-level strategic and economic talks set to begin on Thursday.
President Barack Obama's administration and China's officials have signaled that the global economy, North Korea, Iran and Sudan — issues in which millions of lives are at stake — have become far more important in U.S.-Chinese relations.
Thus, both refuse to admit anything is amiss as a high-profile dissident is believed to be sheltering with U.S. diplomats in China.
To listen to officials in both countries, Chen Guangcheng is an invisible man.
Obama himself refused to address the issue on Monday, declining to confirm that the blind lawyer is under U.S. protection in China or that American diplomats are attempting to negotiate an agreement for him to receive asylum.
"Obviously, I'm aware of the press reports on the situation in China, but I'm not going to make a statement on the issue," the president said at a joint White House news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
He added obliquely, "What I would like to emphasize is that every time we meet with China the issue of human rights comes up."
Speaking later, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, similarly declined to talk about Chen but said she would raise human rights issues at the upcoming meetings in Beijing. She said she and Obama had worked hard to have "an effective, constructive and comprehensive" relationship with the Chinese.
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