Thursday, May 3, 2001

Tuesday was the 80th day that Gao Zhan, the U.S. resident and researcher for American University, spent in the custody of the government of China. This tragic occasion was marked in the U.S. Senate with a hearing by the Subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs, where the case received high-profile treatment. Last week, Mrs. Gaos 5-year-old son Andrew wandered the halls of the Capitol asking legislators to bring his mommy home. Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, has tried to answer that call by sponsoring a bill that would make Mrs. Gao a U.S. citizen without being present to swear the oath of allegiance to the United States and of renunciation of her Chinese citizenship.

Mrs. Gao had fulfilled all the requirements for naturalization before she left her McLean, Va., home to celebrate the New Year with family back in China. On attempting to leave the country, she was detained, held for 40 days without being charged with a crime, a violation of China´s own law. She has been denied access to her lawyer. No one outside of China has been allowed any contact with her, including her son and husband, who were also accosted at the airport and detained separately for 26 days.

Mrs. Gao is one of several Chinese American scholars detained in the past months, and the State Department has released a travel warning for Americans originally from China. “In some cases, travel to Taiwan or involvement with Taiwan media organizations has apparently also been regarded as the equivalent of espionage by MSS,” i.e. the Chinese Ministry of State Security, so the travel warning said. When Mr. Allen asked James Kelly, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs what was being done to get Mrs. Gao home, Mr. Kelly responded that the U.S. Embassy had been making daily phone calls and that the State Department had issued its travel warning. That is not a whole lot.

“This is certainly bound to be, along with other things, something that can be quite harmful to relations” between China and the United States, Mr. Allen said in an interview Tuesday. “When they treat our citizens, or even folks like this, this way, you can imagine it makes it very difficult to say engagement and trade is somehow leading the authorities in China toward a more enlightened path.”

Congress itself can take the first step by passing Mr. Allen´s bill as soon as possible. Sen. Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has confirmed that Mrs. Gao “meets the requirements for naturalization, including good moral character.” While her citizenship may not guarantee that China will change its ways, it may help reunite her with her family by giving her the international protection accorded U.S. citizens.

China certainly has a long way to go before it reaches the “enlightened path” where Chinese American scholars are not seen as a threat, and where the rule of law and the protection of basic human freedoms has true meaning. Mrs. Gao should not be a victim of the Chinese government on that uncertain journey.

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