BEIJING, China (CBS) - A top deputy to Secretary of State Clinton is in China Monday morning 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.
Now, both sides are working on a deal to allow that dissident to leave China. This is overshadowing an important series of economic meetings later this week.
A diplomatic crisis between Beijing and Washington centers around one man, Chen Guangcheng. He's 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.
Hired thugs regularly beat Chen and his wife inside their home as punishment for his outspoken campaign against forced abortions in China.
After a daring escape that dodged dozens of guards, Chen released an internet video, begging Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to protect his family by saying, "Although I'm free, my worries are deepening, he pleads. 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 convince Chinese authorities to free the man they consider a criminal.
Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney released a statement pushing US diplomats to stand up to Beijing, pressuring them to "take every measure" to ensure Chen and his family's safety.
The activist's escape couldn't have come at a trickier time. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and 200 other top U.S. officials were already coming Beijing this week. Their meetings were meant to boost bilateral relations.
Instead, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell's reportedly involved in tense negotiations determining Chen's fate.
The clock's 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.