US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in Beijing, where a tense human rights showdown awaits over the fate of a blind Chinese lawyer said to be under US protection after escaping from house arrest.

The issue of Chen Guangcheng's future threatens to overshadow this year's round of high-level strategic and economic talks between the world's two biggest economic powers. Those talks begin on Thursday. 

Publicly, the US and Chinese governments have said nothing about the Chen case. Neither side wants the biggest human-rights issue between the two since Tiananmen Square to damage a working relationship between the world's top importer and exporter, and between the world's biggest military and the fastest developing.