Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Release Mr. Yang

Forty U.S. senators yesterday demanded the release of a Chinese-American democracy advocate arrested in China three years ago, warning that his continued detention could hurt U.S.-Chinese relations.

The bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to the Chinese Embassy, addressed to President Hu Jintao, raising another appeal for freedom for Yang Jianli, one of the thousands who demonstrated for democracy in 1989 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Mr. Yang was granted asylum in the United States, where he earned doctoral degrees in mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley and from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He slipped into China illegally on a friend’s passport in 2002 to investigate reports of labor unrest in northeast China and was arrested as he tried to board a plane to leave the country. He was convicted of espionage and entering the country illegally.

“Our concerns have been heightened by recent descriptions of Dr. Yang’s treatment in prison,” the senators wrote. “During his detention Dr. Yang was reportedly beaten and tortured by four prison guards with electrified wands. All requests to see his lawyer to file charges against these guards have been denied.”

The senators reminded Mr. Hu that his government claimed to have prosecuted human rights abusers in a report released in April, specifically mentioning “government functionaries” who mistreat “people in custody.”

“Dr. Yang’s detention and poor treatment clearly contradict that claim and have become an unnecessary irritant in U.S.-China relations,” the senators said.

Dues and don’ts

The tactic of threatening to withhold U.S. dues to the United Nations to force the world body to reform proved too hot for a congressional blue-ribbon panel to handle yesterday, our correspondent David R. Sands reports.

As expected, the 12-member bipartisan task force chaired by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, Maine Democrat, endorsed a broad range of reforms designed to make the United Nations work better, including an overhaul of the U.N. human rights commission, internal management changes and tougher standards for U.N. peacekeeping forces.

But the panel could not agree on what many see as the only way to get the U.N. bureaucracy to pay attention — limiting their access to the U.S. financial trough.

The withholding of dues, used before by Congress in the 1980s and 1990s, is at the heart of a U.N.-reform bill co-sponsored by House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, and Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican. Mr. Hyde would withhold half of the annual U.S. contribution, which is $438 million this year, if the United Nations fails to adopt more than 30 specific reforms listed in his bill. The full House is scheduled to take up the measure today.

“I don’t endorse withholding. I personally don’t think it’s useful,” Mr. Mitchell told a Capitol Hill press conference yesterday.

Mr. Gingrich did not exactly oppose the Hyde idea, calling the bill a “totally understandable” expression of the “level of anger many Americans feel” about recent U.N. scandals and mismanagement.

But he said withholding U.S. payments, which cover nearly a quarter of the United Nations’ regular operating budget and more than a quarter of its peacekeeping costs, should be a last option after all other measures fail.

But three conservative members of the task force, Edwin Feulner of the Heritage Foundation, former Sen. Malcolm Wallop, Wyoming Republican, and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, dissented from the final report and endorsed Mr. Hyde’s bill.

“The U.N. has made it clear throughout its existence that meaningful reform will not take place without sustained and legitimate pressure from the U.S.,” the three said in a joint statement after the report was released.

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