(CBS News) BEIJING - A top deputy to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in China Monday, trying to quiet a diplomatic uproar.
Reports say a Chinese dissident who's been missing for a week is now under U.S. protection in Beijing.
One human rights activist in the U.S. says both sides are working on a deal to allow that dissident to leave China, before an important series of economic meetings later this week.
The diplomatic crisis between Beijing and Washington centers around Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights activist who fled house arrest in China last week. Now, he's probably hiding inside the U.S. embassy in Beijing, though neither the U.S. nor China will confirm that.
The activist's escape couldn't have come at a trickier time.
Clinton and 200 other top U.S. officials are to descend on Beijing this week for meetings meant to boost bilateral relations.
Instead, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell is said to be involved in tense negotiations over Chen's fate.
The clock is ticking. Sources in touch with the State Department tell us there's a push to sort out a deal for Chen and his family before the official talks between the U.S. and China kick off on Thursday morning.
Hired thugs regularly beat Chen and his wife inside their home - punishment for his outspoken campaign against forced abortions in China.
After a daring escape that saw him dodge dozens of guards, Chen released an internet video begging Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to protect his family: "Although I'm free, my worries are deepening. My wife, mother and children are still in the guards' evil hands."
The video creates a major embarrassment for China and a political nightmare for Washington.
The Obama Administration must persuade Chinese authorities to free the man they consider a criminal.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney released a statement pushing U.S. diplomats to stand up to Beijing, pressuring them to "take every measure" to ensure the safety of Chen and his family.
To see Celia Hatton's report, click on the video in the player above.