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Obama will not confirm Chinese dissident under US protection

President Barack Obama Monday declined to confirm that Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng was holed up under US protection in Beijing, but said human rights was a prime concern in Sino-US 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 US-China relations ahead of a visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Earlier, a fellow dissident said that Chen was taking refuge in the US embassy in Beijing but was not seeking asylum abroad.

Hu Jia also said Chinese security officials indicated that Chen met US 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 US embassy, but the embassy and State Department officials in Washington have refused to confirm or deny these.

col/ag

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