PEKING — New York Times correspondent John Burns saw his wife and two young children today for the first time since Chinese authorities locked him away last week on suspicion of spying. He was reported to be in good spirits.
As reporters watched through a gate, Burns, dressed in civilian clothes, embraced his children and kissed his wife goodby in the compound of a Peking Public Security Bureau branch office.
The newspaper's executive editor, A. M. Rosenthal, accompanied by Warren Hoge, the foreign editor, and U.S. and British officials also spoke with Burns in separate visits today.
"He's in very good spirits," said Burns' wife, Jane Scott-Long. "He says all the charges are unfounded and that he's in very good form."
Chinese authorities say Burns, a 41-year-old Briton, is being investigated on suspicion of gathering intelligence while on a motorcycle trip through restricted areas of central China earlier this month.
'Picture ... Will Diminish'
Burns, the New York Times' Peking correspondent, was traveling with a U.S. Justice Department lawyer, who has since left China, and a Chinese man, whose whereabouts are not known.
Rosenthal said he told a public security official identified only as Zhang "that if a reporter like John Burns working for a newspaper like the New York Times can be harassed at an airport for 15 hours and then detained for four or five days, then I fear that the picture of China around the world will diminish seriously. I do not say this with any pleasure."
Rosenthal said he told Zhang that Burns "was a newspaperman first and last and he is no more an intelligence agent than my grandmother, who I assure you was not an intelligence agent.
"I said the damage has been done and the time has come for damage control. And the damage control consisted of releasing him quickly. . . ."
Police stopped Burns and his two traveling companions near the border of Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces and held them for two days in the Shaanxi village of Hanzhong. They were released and returned to Peking on July 7 after writing "self-criticisms."
On Thursday, Burns was stopped at Peking airport as he, his wife and their two children prepared to leave the country for a vacation. He was questioned at the airport for 15 hours, his home was searched and he was escorted to Peking's Paozhu Detention Center at 4 a.m. Friday.