Obama Declines To Comment On Escaped Chinese Dissident Chen Guangcheng

President Obama sidestepped a question about Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng today, refusing to confirm reports that the U.S. is protecting the human-rights advocate.

"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 told reporters during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan.

"What I would like to emphasize is that every time we meet with China, the issue of human rights comes up.  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," the president added.

U.S. authorities are reportedly attempting to secure American asylum for the blind self-taught lawyer who escaped house arrest last week. Chen, who has fought against forced abortions and corruption in China, is currently under the protection of U.S. diplomats in Beijing, according to activists.

The situation has created a diplomatic crisis ahead of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to China later this week for the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue meetings.

"We want China to be strong and we want it to be prosperous, and we're very pleased with all the areas of cooperation that we've been able to engage in.  But we also believe that that relationship will be that much stronger and China will be that much more prosperous and strong as you see improvements on human rights issues in that country," Obama said.