China frees dissident in apparent effort to solidify trade status with U.S.

May 26, 1993|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- China paroled a veteran political dissident today in a move that follows reports that President Clinton will extend China's favorable U.S. trade status for one more year without special conditions.

Xu Wenli, 49, who has served 12 years in prison for taking part in a democracy movement here in 1978-81, was released three years early today, the Justice Ministry announced.

John Kamm, a U.S. human rights activist in Hong Kong, said that he earlier received a fax from "a senior government source" promising that Mr. Xu would be released this morning. Mr. Kamm has frequently been the conduit for Chinese authorities to announce releases of political and religious dissidents.

Mr. Xu's release is another example of the way China has been using its jailed dissidents as diplomatic hostages, in order to retain its profitable U.S. trade status and to buttress its bid to host the 2000 Olympics.

His parole comes a day after reports from Washington indicate that President Clinton wants to extend by executive order China's most-favored-nation trade status with the United States without conditions until the summer of 1994.

Under the president's plan, the Chinese would have a year to meet only generally stated, U.S. goals for progress on their human rights abuses, trade malpractices and arms sales.

This plan is more lenient than tough Congressional proposals that would imposing strict conditions on renewing the favorable trade status, and Mr. Kamm said that Mr. Xu's release reflects Chinese authorities'recognition of that.

"They're not pleased with the idea of executive conditions in 1994 but they're happy they don't have to face legislatively imposed conditions now," he said.

Mr. Kamm said he expects China is likely to continue to release other dissidents from time to time over the summer as the Sept. 23 deadline approaches for the International Olympic Committee's decision on whether China or another bidder will be chosen to host the 2000 Olympics.

IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch said last week that human rights considerations will be a factor in that decision. "So China is really concerned about its image now," Mr. Kamm said. "They desperately want the Olympics."

Mr. Xu was paroled simply for "abiding by prison rules and regulations," Mr. Kamm said, not for having admitting any wrong-doing. This suggests that China now might be willing to release other dissidents who refuse to repent to authorities, he said.

Mr. Xu published a pro-democracy, underground journal during the "Democracy Wall" movement here in the late 1970s.

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