(CBS News) President Obama on Monday declined to confirm reports a prominent legal activist in China who escaped house arrest is in U.S. custody, instead stressing that the United States consistently presses China on human rights issues.
"I'm not going to make a statement on the issue," Mr. Obama said when asked about Chen Guangcheng, the activist who reportedly took refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
Neither side has confirmed the whereabouts of Chen, whose case could seriously complicate U.S. relations with the world's second largest economy.
Sources tell CBS News that American and Chinese officials are involved inon the blind, self-taught lawyer's fate.
That said, Mr. Obama added, "Every time we meet with China the issue of human rights comes up. 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 think China will be stronger as it opens up and liberalizes its own system."
The president's remarks came at a joint White House press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. He added later that the U.S. is in a "very important strategic and economic dialogue with China."
China's growth is potentially good for the region, Mr. Obama said, but he added, "We do believe that as China continues to grow, as its influence continues to expand, that it has to be a strong partner in abiding by international rules and norms."