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Wu Back in U.S. After China Expels Him as Spy : Asia: 'I'm very proud I'm American,' the activist says from his Bay Area home. He is exhausted, emotionally drained.

August 25, 1995|MAGGIE FARLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BEIJING — American human rights activist Harry Wu arrived back in the United States on Thursday night after China subjected him to a speedy trial and abruptly ejected him for spying and stealing state secrets.

Wu arrived at San Francisco International Airport on a commercial flight from Shanghai about 8 p.m. and was greeted by his wife, Ching Lee Wu, and friends.

Supporters and journalists had crowded the airport awaiting his arrival, but Wu was spirited away without making an appearance.

A doctor examined Wu before he left, and an airport spokesman said Wu "appeared to be OK." But a family friend said he was emotionally drained after his "enormous ordeal."

At his home in Milpitas, Calif., Wu told reporters: "I'm very proud I'm American. If I was not American, I don't think I could be out."

The Chinese decision to let Wu return to the United States--without first serving a 15-year prison sentence meted out by the Chinese court--should improve tense U.S.-China relations and clear the way for First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to visit here for an international women's conference in early September, analysts said.

President Clinton, who had been pushing for Wu's early release on humanitarian grounds, welcomed the Chinese action, saying it "removes an obstacle to improving relations between the United States and China."

China freed Wu, 58, on the eve of Undersecretary of State Peter Tarnoff's peacemaking visit here to resolve U.S.-Chinese conflicts over Taiwan, trade and Wu's case. Wu's release also removes a potent symbol for human rights activists attending next week's non-governmental women's conference outside Beijing.

Despite the timing, China denied that its decision to let Wu go was a concession to the Americans or part of any deal with the United States. "The ruling in the Harry Wu case has nothing to do with Sino-U.S. relations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Chen Jian said in a Thursday briefing here.

The White House also denied that Wu's release was the condition for Mrs. Clinton's attendance at the Beijing forum.

Clinton Administration officials, though, had known as early as last week that Wu was about to be put on trial in Wuhan; the U.S. Embassy in Beijing made arrangements to have a consular officer present at the proceeding.

As well as pleasing the United States, the Chinese regime's handling of Wu's case was designed for domestic consumption: The verdict and expulsion seemed to accommodate both the hard-line factions here, who regarded the Chinese-born Wu as the ultimate traitor for his exposes on China's gulag system, and more moderate forces in Beijing, who were anxious to see Wu's controversial case quickly resolved.

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After receiving almost no attention here since he was detained June 19 while trying to enter China at a remote border post to continue his efforts to surreptitiously document China's prison labor system, Wu's case dominated Chinese news Thursday. A series of reports from the government-run New China News Agency detailed Wu's "despicable tricks" designed to "slander, attack and oppose China," and quoted a confession Wu had submitted to the court.

"After thinking carefully and self-examination, I have sincerely drawn the conclusion that the following facts show that I have damaged the interests of the Chinese government and the Chinese people directly or indirectly and that I have violated Chinese laws," the news service quoted Wu as saying in a letter he had written to the court before his trial.

Some of the descriptions in that publicized confession--such as Wu's saying he had impersonated a police officer and illegally filmed in labor camps for foreign documentaries--were strikingly similar to passages in Wu's memoirs about the 19 years he spent as a political prisoner in the Chinese gulags and statements he has made in his campaign to expose them.

China's state television also broadcast scenes from Wu's four-hour trial Wednesday morning, showing a solemn Wu bracing himself in a wooden docket, head bowed, listening to the proceedings, then limping out of the courtroom with his hands in shackles after receiving his 15-year sentence.

But while most of China was watching images of Harry Wu, convicted criminal, hobbling back to prison, he was actually on a flight heading back to San Francisco a free man.

Earlier Thursday, at the Wu home in Milpitas, where supporters had tied symbolic yellow ribbons on tree branches after his arrest, Ching Lee Wu told reporters she was delighted with the news that her husband was on his way home.

She had lobbied international leaders hard to pressure the Chinese government to free her husband and had urged Mrs. Clinton to boycott the international women's conference as long as Wu was detained.

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In San Francisco, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who returned Thursday to the United States from a trip to China to lobby for Wu's release, applauded Chinese officials for letting him go and said no deals were struck with Beijing to secure his freedom.

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