CHINA orders American professor expelled after spying conviction; U.S. welcomes release

Saturday, July 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BEIJING (AP) _ China convicted an American business professor Saturday of spying for Taiwan and then ordered him deported, apparently trying to remove an irritant in relations with Washington.

Li Shaomin's conviction came a day after Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympics _ a contrast that highlighted the communist government's mixed feelings about opening to the outside world.

Its timing suggested China had put off the conviction to avoid drawing attention to human rights during its intense lobbying campaign before the Olympic vote Friday in Moscow.

Li is one of five Chinese-born intellectuals with U.S. ties accused by China over the past year of spying for rival Taiwan. Detained Feb. 25, he was the first to go on trial in the crackdown, which has spread unease among China scholars.

``This has been a matter of great concern to many people in the United States and one we have raised at high levels with the Chinese government,'' the U.S. Embassy said in a statement welcoming Li's release.

In Washington, a State Department official echoed those remarks, adding: ``We continue to urge the Chinese government to promptly resolve the cases of those who have been similarly detained ... so that they may also be reunited with their families in the United States.''

Li was convicted in a closed trial at the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court. The official Xinhua News Agency said the court had a ``large amount of confirmed evidence'' that he spied for Taiwan and damaged Chinese security, but it gave no details.

Chinese officials said before the trial that Li had confessed. His wife denied the accusations and said has she doesn't even know which activities Beijing considered suspicious.

The U.S. Embassy was allowed to send a diplomat to watch Li's trial but wouldn't give any details of the proceeding. A spokesman said late Saturday afternoon that Li was still in China and that the Embassy didn't know when he would be expelled or to where.

The spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Embassy wouldn't comment on why Li was deported instead of receiving a prison term. Under Chinese law, spying can carry a sentence of three years to life in prison.

Li, 44, went to the United States in 1982. He later became an American citizen and received a Ph.D. from Princeton University. He has lectured in China and worked as a U.N. adviser to Beijing.

His expulsion would end one of a series of conflicts that have troubled relations with Washington. Ties were badly damaged by the April 1 collision of a U.S. Navy spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea that killed the Chinese pilot.

The U.S. Congress passed a resolution last month demanding Li's release. China specialists in Hong Kong issued a statement in May saying the case had left many researchers _ especially those from Hong Kong _ uneasy about visiting the mainland.

Beijing has indicated in recent weeks that it wants to restore amicable relations. But four Chinese-born intellectuals with American ties _ one of them a U.S. citizen _ are still in Chinese custody on spying charges.

They include Gao Zhan, a sociologist at National University in Washington. She was picked up Feb. 11 at the Beijing airport during a family trip to China.

Gao's detention caused a diplomatic uproar because Chinese authorities also temporarily held her 5-year-old son, a U.S. citizen, without notifying the U.S. Embassy as required by treaty. Gao is a Chinese citizen but has U.S. permanent resident status.

Gao's husband says academic contacts with Taiwan might have attracted the attention of Beijing, but he insisted she wasn't involved in espionage.

China has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province since the two split amid civil war that ended in 1949, and the two sides actively spy on each other.

Another detainee is Wu Jianmin, a naturalized U.S. citizen and writer from New York City who was picked up April 8 and accused of espionage.