China allows dissidents' wives to leave country Low-key negotiations result in concessions

October 20, 1991|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- In a quiet but significant concession to U.S. pressure, China has allowed the wives of five leading Chinese dissidents to join their husbands in exile in the United States.

A visiting French human rights group said yesterday that Chinese officials are considering permitting more relatives of exiled pro-democracy protesters to emigrate.

But the visiting French lawyers and judges also said that authorities here still reject Western requests that amnesty be granted to those involved in China's 1989 democracy movement. At least 1,000 activists are believed to be in China's jails.

The five dissidents' wives had been trying to get permission to leave China for almost two years, since their husbands fled the country after the brutal military crackdown on the 1989 protests.

Their husbands, all activists or dissident writers, live in Princeton, N.J., a haven for some leading Chinese dissidents, including Fang Lizhi, the physicist who spent a year in the sanctuary of the U.S. Embassy here before being allowed to leave China in 1990.

The women left China over a two-month period ending last month as a result of negotiations between U.S. and Chinese diplomats here. China has not announced that the women have emigrated, but it was confirmed yesterday by a U.S. Embassy official.

"This was done very quietly," said the U.S. diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It shows on some issues, but not all, that this kind of approach works best with the Chinese."

The Chinese concession comes amid marked deterioration in relations stemming from an increase in overt U.S. political pressure on China over such issues as human rights abuses, prison labor, trade malpractices and arms sales. The U.S.-China rift dates from the Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy protesters in June 1989, but it has widened with the growing political controversy in the United States over renewing China's favorable trade status.

While staunchly maintaining that it will never yield to foreign pressure, China has made several recent moves apparently aimed at guarding against the possible loss of the profitable trade status, which permits Chinese imports to enter the United States under the lowest duties.

The five women who have been permitted to emigrate are the wives of Su Xiaokang, scriptwriter for a television program critical of Chinese society; Yuan HD, a student leader; Ruan Ming, an associate of ousted Community Party chief Hu Yaobang; Mao Bo, a journalist, and Chen Kuide, director of a culture institute at an eastern Chinese university.

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