- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

American University scholar Gao Zhan, formally charged with spying by China this week, would be given immediate American citizenship under a bill introduced yesterday by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
The United States has condemned the 54-day detention of Mrs. Gao, who has been held incommunicado at an undisclosed location since being arrested by Chinese security forces at a Beijing airport and separated from her husband and 5-year-old son.
"We're not here to pick any fights or assign any blame," said Sen. George F. Allen, Virginia Republican and the primary sponsor of the bill in the Senate. "We're simply asking China to do the right thing and release Gao Zhan on humanitarian grounds."
The Chinese-born AU researcher's plight is just one of a growing list of irritants between Beijing and Washington, a relationship that was jarred even more by the impasse over the fate of 24 Americans whose electronic surveillance plane made an emergency landing at a Chinese military base Sunday.
Mrs. Gao, whose research included women's and economic development issues in China and Taiwan, was on the verge of obtaining U.S. citizenship when she was arrested.
Jerome Cohen, her attorney, told CNN yesterday he believed the Chinese government originally hoped to use Mrs. Gao to send a message to others in the academic community.
"This is an attempt to intimidate scholars, and especially scholars of Chinese descent," said Mr. Cohen, citing the cases of other U.S.-based Chinese researchers who have been charged with spying by Chinese security forces.
Bruce Fein, an author and international legal scholar, said the citizenship bill would give Mrs. Gao the right to visits and legal aid from American consular officials, but it would not protect her from the substance of the Chinese charges.
"Whether there is any merit at all to what the Chinese are alleging here, international conventions don't grant you immunity from a country's criminal laws just because you are given citizenship by another country," Mr. Fein said.
Beijing has already said a citizenship declaration would not change its handling of the case. Foreign Ministry officials have said Mrs. Gao was caught spying for an unnamed "overseas intelligence service."
Aides to Mr. Allen said the citizenship bill is not only intended to boost Mrs. Gao's legal rights, but also to send a political message to Beijing about the importance the case has on Capitol Hill.
Although Mrs. Gao was arrested in February, her husband, Xue Donghua, said yesterday Chinese officials appear to be linking her case to the standoff over the U.S. military plane.
"They held her for many weeks, but they didn't announce formal charges until just after the plane crashed," said Mr. Xue, a computer programmer who lives in Falls Church, Va. "I really don't think that was coincidental."
Mr. Allen said he hoped for quick action on the bill, but he noted the Senate is working on the president's budget and goes on recess next week. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, is a lead sponsor of the bill in the House.
Because Mrs. Gao is not a U.S. citizen, American embassy officials in China have been unable to contact her, Mr. Allen said. The only outside communication she has had since Feb. 11 was a brief message received by her parents in China.
Mr. Allen said China risked damaging its own interests on other issues because of its handling of the Gao case.
China is seeking U.S. support for entry into the World Trade Organization, is urging Washington not to expand arms sales to Taiwan and hopes to land the 2008 Summer Olympics.
"If China is a nation that is so eager to join the company of the world's enlightened nations, you would think they would not want to treat their own citizens in a way as backward as this," Mr. Allen said.
A 22-member congressional delegation is pondering whether to go ahead with a recess trip to China scheduled to leave tomorrow. Mr. Allen, who is not part of the trip, said he knew several colleagues who were "wrestling in their own hearts and minds" whether to go.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday the administration is not at this point advising the lawmakers to cancel the trip.

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