PEKING — Chinese allegations that a New York Times reporter may have spied while in a restricted part of central China are a misunderstanding, the newspaper's executive editor, A.M. Rosenthal, said Saturday.
"Oh, it's nonsense," Rosenthal said after arriving with Times Foreign Editor Warren Hoge to help secure the release of correspondent John F. Burns.
"John is a newspaper person and just a newspaper person," Rosenthal said. Burns, 41, a Briton, has been in police custody since early Thursday, when he and his family were stopped at Peking airport from leaving the country on a vacation.
The State Department said Friday that Chinese officials reported Burns was being investigated on suspicion of "entering an area not open to foreigners and carrying out intelligence activities." The department said no charges have been filed but that Burns will remain in detention until the investigation is complete.
Despite requests by U.S. and British embassy officials to meet with Burns, he has not been allowed visitors.
Central China Trip
The allegation stems from a motorcycle trip Burns took in early July into north-central China. He and two companions were detained for two days by local police near the border of Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces and required to write lengthy self-criticisms for allegedly entering an area closed to foreigners.
One of Burns' companions, U.S. Justice Department lawyer Ed McNally, has returned to the United States. McNally had been teaching at Peking University. The other companion, Zhang Daxing, a Chinese man, was questioned by police for a day and released.
Police questioned Burns for 15 hours at the airport Thursday. He was taken later to the Paozhu detention center in Peking.
"I think there is a misunderstanding," Rosenthal said. "God willing it will be cleared up soon."
The New York Times editors were greeted at the airport by U.S. Ambassador Winston Lord, who cut short a trip to southwest China when he learned of Burns' detention.