- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2001

Xue Donghua doesn't understand how his wife landed in a Chinese detention cell and at the center of an international espionage case that has roiled relations between Beijing and the Bush administration.
"I've been puzzling over this for weeks and weeks and I don't have a good answer," the McLean, Va., computer systems analyst said yesterday. "All her life was devoted to academics. She had nothing to do with foreign intelligence, ever."
Mr. Xue's wife, American University researcher Gao Zhan, has been held incommunicado for nearly seven weeks after Chinese security agents detained her at a Beijing airport Feb. 11 and separated her from her husband and 5-year-old son. The boy was held, cared for only by strangers, for 26 days.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday there was "no substance" to the Chinese charges against Mrs. Gao.
"We continue to urge the Chinese government to release Mrs. Gao immediately so that she can be reunited with her family in the United States," Mr. Boucher said. "We are looking for a more forthcoming response from the Chinese."
The Chinese government, ignoring new protests from the Bush administration, yesterday lodged fresh charges against Mrs. Gao, 40, saying she had "confessed" and had accepted money from foreign intelligence services to spy on China.
"Evidence has shown that Gao Zhan accepted commissions from overseas intelligence agencies and also took funds for spying activities on mainland China," Sun Yuxi, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Beijing yesterday.
Mr. Sun did not say which country Mrs. Gao is suspected of spying for, but Mr. Xue said that security officials had closely questioned him about his wife's research trips to Taiwan in 1995 and 1999.
The U.S. government has strongly protested the arrest and the treatment of Mrs. Gao and her family. President Bush raised the scholar's case in a private meeting last week in Washington with Chinese Vice Prime Minister Qian Qichen.
Mr. Xue met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including Sen. George F. Allen, Virginia Republican, about a bill to grant Mrs. Gao instant American citizenship in hopes of speeding her release.
Secretary of State Colin Powell last week called China's handling of the case "outrageous," citing in particular accusations that the researcher's son Andrew, who is an American citizen, was held separately from his parents from Feb. 11 to March 8.
U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing were not contacted about the arrest, and Electronic Data Systems, Mr. Xue's employer, assumed the couple had been kidnapped.
Colleagues, friends and neighbors share Mr. Xue's bafflement at the targeting of Mrs. Gao, who had repeatedly visited China without incident in the years since leaving her native country in 1989.
"We just don't know why" she would be detained, said Louis Goodman, dean of the School of International Service at American University.
"From what I understand, she has traveled to China one or two times a year for many years. They haven't presented any evidence to us or told us anything."
Mrs. Gao and her family live in an upscale town house in McLean near Tysons Galleria. Neighbors in the gated community weren't aware of her situation but remembered seeing the couple outside often with their son.
"Oftentimes you would see the boy outside on his bike and the parents would always be supervising him," one neighbor said.
Taraq Alhomayed, 30, whose daughter is a classmate of Andrew's, said he didn't know anything unusual had happened until his daughter came home and told him Monday.
Hadab Alhomayed, 6, said her teachers told her class to watch the news because they would be talking about Andrew's family. She said she knew Andrew had been on a trip but that he's back in school now.
"I would say they're nice people," Mr. Alhomayed said. "It's surprising, especially when it happens to be someone my daughter knows, her classmate."
Mr. Xue described his wife as "sharp" but "vulnerable," saying she was probably as mystified about the charges as he was. He also worried that she may face health problems in custody.
"When she was depressed or tired at the end of the day, sometimes she had to take medicine for an irregular heartbeat," he said.
He noted that the family was only in China to celebrate the New Year festival with relatives, and that Mrs. Gao was not even doing any research on the latest trip. He said he did not know if her pending American citizenship application played a factor in the arrest.
According to Mr. Xue, Chinese national security agents stopped the family at the airport Feb. 8, searched their luggage for more than an hour, and then took the three to an undisclosed location two hours' drive from Beijing.
Mrs. Gao has not been heard from since that date. Mr. Xue said he only saw his son again when the two were released and sent home March 8. He said security agents forced him to sign a pledge not to talk about his detention, warning there would be a "serious negative impact" on his wife if he went public.
American University officials said Mrs. Gao's primary areas of research included the role of women in economic reforms in China and the activities of students returning to China after studying abroad.
Under bilateral consular accords, China is required to notify U.S. officials when an American national is held in detention.
But the Foreign Ministry's Mr. Sun repeated yesterday his government's contention that Mrs. Gao, a Chinese national who has applied for U.S. citizenship, has already confessed to her crimes.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman also contended that the couple's young son had been kept at a Beijing kindergarten with the explicit approval of his parents.
He said China would not even consider U.S. protests over the handling of the case.
"The U.S. protest is without foundation and China has refused to accept it," Mr. Sun said. "The kindergarten took good care of him and Andrew lived just as any other child in that kindergarten."
Mr. Xue dismissed as "nonsense" the suggestion that either he or his wife had approved of a separate detention for their son. "I would never consent to be separated from my son in such a situation," he said yesterday.
Beijing and Washington have sparred repeatedly in the early days of the Bush administration.
The United States next month will push for a resolution critical of China at a United Nations human rights conference in Geneva and will also announce what is widely expected to be expanded arms sales to Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province.
Mr. Xue said he and his son had received strong support from their church, St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Falls Church, Va., but that his son still can't understand what has happened to his mother.
"All he knows is that she's not here now," he said. "He asks for her every single day."
Matthew Cella contributed to this article.

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