- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2001

President Bush asked Chinese President Jiang Zemin yesterday to release two U.S. academics — a researcher at American University in Washington and an American business professor in Hong Kong — put on trial for espionage.
The State Department confirmed that both cases, which the United States considers groundless, had gone to trial.
The announcement came hours after Mr. Bush raised both cases in a telephone conversation with Mr. Jiang.
"The president talked to Jiang Zemin this morning and raised this issue, and I hope that this matter too will be resolved quickly," said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
Separately, a State Department spokesman said the Bush administration was "deeply disturbed by reports that China has further intensified its harsh repression of the Falun Gong," a meditation sect that has become increasingly popular in China.
In February, China arrested American University scholar Gao Zhan, a permanent U.S. resident who was slated to be sworn in as an American citizen, and subsequently charged her with espionage.
Mrs. Gao's husband, Xue Donghua, said yesterday that he was neither optimistic nor pessimistic over the latest development.
"The good news is that President Bush talked to the Chinese president and asked him to release my wife. The bad news is that the State Department confirmed that there is a trial going on against her," Mr. Xue said by telephone.
"I just try to keep my hopes up," he said.
Also on trial in Beijing is Li Shaomin, an American citizen who teaches business at a Hong Kong university.
Mrs. Gao, whose research included women's issues in both Taiwan and China, was held incommunicado for months and later charged with espionage.
Mr. Li was charged with spying for Taiwan.
"In the case of detainees, we've consistently urged the Chinese government to resolve these cases as soon as possible, and we will continue to urge them to do that," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.
"We have encouraged China to treat these people fairly. … We have also urged that they be reunited with their families," he said.
But Mr. Boucher added it was "an open question" as to whether either would get a fair trial, "particularly given what we know about the Chinese legal system."
Both detentions became a major issue during the April standoff over China's downing of an American surveillance plane and the detention of its crew.
At the time, Mrs. Gao had been detained for nearly two months but formal spying charges were not announced until shortly after the plane was forced down on Hainan island on April 1.
Their detentions and the arrests of several other U.S. citizens in China prompted the State Department to warn academics against traveling to China to conduct research.
However, the trials of Mrs. Gao and Mr. Li, coming as China pursues its bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, has prompted optimism that the two could be reunited with their families shortly.
Mr. Powell, in an interview with Reuters news agency, said he had not had a transcript of Mr. Bush's conversation but added that it was "unlikely" that Mr. Jiang had given assurances.
But he expressed measured optimism that the trials would lead to the release of both scholars.
"I hope that they will conclude their proceedings … in a way that hopefully will create a path that will allow these folks to return to the United States to rejoin their families," he said.
Chinese news reports have suggested the trials could be over by Monday, setting the stage for the scholars' release.
As for the Falun Gong, Mr. Boucher said the reported deaths of at least 15 Falun Gong practitioners in the Wanjia labor camp in the city of Harbin in China's Heilongjiang province last month was "particularly troublesome."
"There are conflicting accounts of what actually occurred in the … labor camp, but the reports of violence and torture against these Chinese Falun Gong practitioners at the hands of Chinese authorities are chilling," he said.
Falun Gong said Wednesday at least 15 of its female followers were tortured to death at the camp on or around June 20.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said yesterday that three Falun Gong supporters had died and eight had been saved in a mass suicide attempt at the labor camp.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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