Visiting U.S. citizen detained by Chinese, embassy says

Hong Kong professor is second scholar to be held this year

March 31, 2001|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING - For the second time this year, Chinese authorities have detained a visiting scholar, this time a U.S. citizen who teaches business at City University of Hong Kong.

China's State Security Bureau detained Professor Li Shaomin on Feb. 25 as he tried to enter the mainland from Hong Kong, according to his wife, Liu Yingli. Liu said her husband was traveling from the former British colony to the Chinese border city of Shenzhen to meet with a friend, but she declined to elaborate. She said she had not heard from her husband since then and did not know why Chinese authorities would have detained him.

"The Chinese government can detain you for any reason," said Liu, who teaches marketing at City University of Hong Kong. "From my point of view, he didn't do anything wrong."

A U.S. Embassy official confirmed yesterday that an American citizen had been detained for more than a month but was unable to give the detainee's name because the embassy had not received a privacy waiver from the family.

"The embassy is aware of the case," said the spokesman, who added that a consular officer had met with the man in custody. "We've been working on it since late February."

Reached by phone yesterday afternoon, China's Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Li is the second scholar to have been detained in China in the past two months. On Feb. 11, Chinese authorities arrested a U.S.-based professor, Gao Zhan, as she prepared to return home after visiting her family here.

The regime has accused Gao, a sociologist and adjunct professor at American University in Washington, of spying for a foreign country, but has not said which one. Chinese officials said she has confessed.

"She accepted a mission from an overseas intelligence agency," Sun Yuxi, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Thursday. "That's all I can say now."

The United States and Gao's husband, Xue Donghua, who was detained and released, have denied that she is a spy. Xue took an oath of citizenship in Washington yesterday and pleaded for the release of his wife.

"I feel so sad for my wife," Xue told members of Congress and more than a dozen television cameras and reporters after standing before seven U.S. flags and swearing allegiance to the United States. "She should be standing here with me."

Gao's case has drawn outrage, in part because her 5-year-old son, Andrew Xue - who is a U.S. citizen - was taken from his parents and put in a Beijing kindergarten. He was released 26 days later, along with his father. Xue said the experience has changed Andrew from "a very open boy" to one with nightmares who "will not leave me for 15 minutes."

The Chinese government did not notify U.S. authorities that they were holding the boy, as required under the nations' consular agreement. In Li's case, the Chinese informed U.S. officials of his detention within the prescribed time.

Yesterday, as the story of Li's detention surfaced in the Hong Kong press, the city's Apple Daily speculated that he might have been detained for political reasons. His wife said he had been active in pressing for democracy and human rights during the 1989 Tiananmen uprising. Liu said her husband had written about business, economics and political issues.

Liu said she was puzzled by the detention because her husband frequently traveled to the Chinese mainland without problems. She said he was featured last year on China Central Television, the nation's state-run network, speaking to high-ranking government officials about the country's strategies for succeeding in the age of high technology.

Li, 44, was born in Beijing. He received his doctorate in population research and sociology from Princeton University. He did post-doctoral research at Harvard University and received U.S. citizenship in the 1980s. He has been teaching at City University of Hong Kong for five years.

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