Move is viewed as diplomatic ploy

CHINA FREES 2 DISSIDENTS EARLY

February 18, 1993|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- China granted early release yesterday to two leaders of the Tiananmen Square uprising, including Wang Dan, who was No. 1 on authorities' most-wanted list after those demonstrations were crushed in 1989.

Mr. Wang's parole and that of another student leader of the Tiananmen protests, Guo Haifeng, were announced by the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Mr. Wang, 23, and Mr. Guo, 27, were to have completed their four-year sentences this summer.

Yesterday's paroles follow the releases late last month of two other Chinese dissidents -- one of whom had been in prison for 10 years -- and decisions in recent months to allow several internationally prominent intellectuals to travel abroad.

Western observers here believe these moves may represent carefully timed diplomatic gestures, aimed primarily at the Clinton administration and the International Olympic Committee, rather than a relaxation in the domestic political climate.

President Clinton has not revealed his position on China's most-favored-nation trading status, which comes up for annual renewal in June. China is hoping that Mr. Clinton will not deliver on his campaign rhetoric, which favored linking the trade status to improvements in China's human rights record.

China also is seeking to hold the Olympics in Beijing in 2000, a bid that will come under close inspection by an Olympic committee delegation that will visit China in early March. The committee will make its decision in September, and China's political repression could hurt its chances.

In its dispatch on Mr. Wang, the official news agency said his and Mr. Guo's paroles mean that "all students who violated the criminal law during the anti-government disturbances in 1989 and were sentenced to . . . imprisonment have been released."

Western diplomats, however, noted that several prominent nonstudent political dissidents remain in prison in connection with the Tiananmen protests. And hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other protesters, all unidentified, are thought likely to remain in detention centers or labor camps across the country.

Altogether, more than 10,000 Chinese are believed to have been arrested in the wake of the Tiananmen protests, and workers and intellectuals tended to receive longer terms and harsher treatment than students.

"This is a very qualified statement that they're making, and I don't think it's going to hold up under scrutiny," a Beijing-based Western diplomat said yesterday. "It's really impossible to verify, because they've never given a full official accounting for everyone who was arrested."

Mr. Wang -- a frail, bespectacled history student at Beijing University -- was one of the Tiananmen protest movement's top spokesmen and perhaps its most thoughtful student leader. His case has been among those generating the most international concern in China, particularly among U.S. diplomats.

Some protest leaders managed to escape from China after the Chinese army's attack on the protesters June 3-4, 1989, but Mr. Wang was arrested in Beijing a month later as he tried to arrange a meeting with a Taiwanese reporter. His was the first name on an official list of 21 students sought by Chinese police.

"I have no regrets," Mr. Wang told foreign reporters at his family's Beijing home last night. "My personal ambition is to do all I can to promote democracy."

He said he plans to write a book about the 1989 protests but that his main immediate desire was "to take a bath and rest."

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