CHINA charges detained scholar with spying for Taiwan

Thursday, May 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HONG KONG (AP) _ China has formally charged an American business professor with spying for Taiwan, upping the stakes in an anti-espionage campaign that has angered Washington and ensnared at least five foreign-trained intellectuals.

Li Shaomin, a U.S. citizen who taught at the City University of Hong Kong, disappeared after crossing the border into China on Feb. 25 to visit a friend. His wife said a State Security Ministry official informed her by telephone Tuesday of his formal arrest on charges of spying for Taiwan.

``He is a scholar. What they accuse him of is pure nonsense,'' Li told The Associated Press. ``I want the world to know my husband has done nothing wrong.''

U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing said Thursday that they had been informed of Li's arrest and were pressing for his release on humanitarian grounds.

``We are very concerned by this development and will continue to express our concern about Mr. Li's case to the Chinese government,'' said a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, speaking on condition of anonymity.

China has detained at least five scholars and writers with foreign ties, prompting protests from Washington and a U.S. State Department warning to travelers linked to Taiwan or dissident writings.

Conviction on spying charges in China can bring sentences ranging from three years to life imprisonment, or death in serious cases.

Wu Jianmin, an American citizen from New York City, was detained on April 8 on suspicion of spying for Taiwan. Gao Zhan, An American University researcher and U.S. permanent resident, was detained Feb. 11 and faces espionage charges. China has not commented on the cause for the detentions of the other two scholars.

A U.S. consular official last met with Li on April 30. At the time, he was in ``generally good health,'' the embassy spokesman said. An embassy official delivered clothing, books and letters for Li on Wednesday, but was not allowed to meet with him.

Li's wife, Liu, said she hoped the U.S. government would take up her husband's case at the highest diplomatic levels.

``I wish the American government would do more,'' she said.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said his government had complied with local laws as well as consular treaties but that he was not in a position to comment further on Li's case.

``The details are not suitable for disclosure at the moment,'' the spokesman, Sun Yuxi, said at a press briefing.

Liu said the family has hired a mainland Chinese lawyer for Li, but they did not know if the lawyer would be able to get access to him.

The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy reported that Li is being held at a detention center run by the Beijing State Security Bureau. Citing sources it did not identify, the rights group said Li would definitely be tried and sentenced but that ``because he is an American citizen, he will possibly be deported after sentencing.''

Last week, 104 Hong Kong academics issued a petition demanding that Beijing release Li. The appeal said the arrests of Li and other scholars had caused alarm, particularly among scholars living in Hong Kong who travel regularly to the Chinese mainland.

Li earned a doctorate in sociology from Princeton University in 1988, and he has taught at Peking University. He has served as a U.N. adviser to China on the business applications of demographic data and has given seminars for the State Statistical Bureau of China.

Liu, also a business professor, said Li's research and writings were motivated by a desire to promote the success of economic and political reforms in China.

``In a way, he is very critical but also constructive and from very good intentions for the good of the country,'' she said.