By Andrew Quinn

BEIJING (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for annual talks with Chinese leaders that risk being upstaged by the case of a blind dissident said to be under U.S. protection in the Chinese capital.

The fate of legal activist Chen Guangcheng, who escaped from house arrest while under watch by scores of guards, has distracted from the planned two-day talks, likely to feature trade and market access issues and diplomatic quandaries over Iran, Syria and North Korea.

The United States and China have stayed mute on Chen, and neither have confirmed that he is with U.S. officials - probably at the fortress-like embassy on the eastern side of Beijing - as friends and activists have said.

But before leaving for China late on Monday, Clinton promised to press China's leaders on human rights, an issue that has dropped down the agenda between the two countries in the more than two decades since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

The talks give Washington a chance to push China on pressuring Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs, halting Syria's crackdown on unarmed protesters and reducing tensions over disputed territory in the South China Sea.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is also set to attend the talks, which come amid some progress in long-standing disputes over currency, trade and market access.

(Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Don Durfee)