BEIJING — The government said Monday that it resents the United States having invited a leading dissident to a banquet given by President Bush and regrets that a fuss was made when police barred him from attending.
Chinese intellectuals, meanwhile, called the action against Fang Lizhi "stupid," "neolithic" and "unacceptable."
Fang, an internationally respected astrophysicist who has criticized Marxism and called for democratic reform in China, was invited to the banquet along with his wife, Li Shuxian. But dozens of police converged to block his car and bar him from entering the hotel where the Texas-style barbecue was held Sunday. Police refused to allow him to ride to the event by taxi.
"All the arrangements concerning President Bush's stay in China had been agreed upon by both sides beforehand," the official New China News Agency said, quoting a Foreign Ministry spokesman. "The U.S. side, without consulting the Chinese side, invited Fang to attend the dinner, which was especially in honor of Chinese leaders. Therefore, the Chinese side resented this."
Visiting world leaders generally hold banquets for their Chinese hosts, but it would be unusual for them to submit the guest list for Chinese approval.
Some people are trying to make an issue of Fang's absence, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said. "We feel sorry that such a thing should happen."
Bush told Vice Premier Wu Xueqian at the airport that he regrets the actions that kept Fang away. At Bush's direction, U.S. Ambassador Winston Lord met with Vice Foreign Minister Zhu Qizhen later and "reiterated the regret that the president had expressed," a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.
Bei Dao, a poet, said he was worried that the incident could be the prelude to a political crackdown after a period of relative cultural freedom. "I was all ready to go back to my work and forget about politics," he said. "But if this is how they are openly interfering in human rights, then I must fight back."
Bei is the author of a recent open letter, signed by 100 others, calling for the release of political prisoners. The letter echoed an earlier one, written by Fang in January.
And Dai Qing, a leading journalist who attended the banquet, said she was shocked by the news. "Their methods are neolithic," she said. "Our government has changed so much for the better, it was pitiful for them to do this now."