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U.S. Citizen Teaching in Hong Kong Detained While on Trip to Mainland

China: Professor was seized last month. An American University researcher is also in custody.


BEIJING — An American citizen who teaches at a Hong Kong university has been detained by Chinese security forces for more than a month, adding another potential source of friction to already rocky Sino-U.S. ties.

Li Shaomin, a professor at City University of Hong Kong, is the second U.S.-based or American scholar arrested recently by the Chinese. Details of his detention began to emerge Friday, even as U.S. officials continue to press Beijing to release Gao Zhan, a researcher from American University in Washington who has been accused of spying.

Unlike Gao, Li is an American citizen who entered China with a U.S. passport. Until now, academics arrested by Chinese police mostly have been Chinese nationals with permanent legal residency in the U.S.

Li, 44, is an expert on the Chinese economy. He was born in China, graduated from prestigious Beijing University and moved to the United States in 1982. He received his PhD in sociology from Princeton University in 1988 and did postdoctoral work at Harvard.

He and his wife, Liu Yingli, became U.S. citizens in 1995, Liu said Friday. They moved to Hong Kong, where Li is listed as an associate professor in City University's department of marketing studies.

The author of numerous scholarly papers and books, Li frequently conducted research and delivered lectures on the Chinese mainland. On Feb. 25, he crossed the border from Hong Kong to the bustling, business-oriented city of Shenzhen.

"Then he never came back," Liu said. "He just disappeared."

Liu, 44, enlisted the help of the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong in finding her missing husband. "After many days, I heard from the American Embassy that my husband [had been] detained by Chinese state security," she said.

Neither Liu nor the couple's 9-year-old daughter has had any contact with Li since his departure. "I haven't been able to eat or sleep," Liu said by telephone from her home in Hong Kong.

A spokesman for the American Embassy in Beijing said U.S. officials have been working on the case since late February. Without mentioning Li by name, the spokesman added that a consular officer had visited "the detained American" and that the embassy was in touch with his family.

U.S. officials declined to say where Li is being held or what charges, if any, have been brought against him. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also declined to comment.

Li's personal Web page lists his academic interests as "strategic management, political economy, international business, the Internet and e-commerce." His published articles bear such titles as "The Road to Capitalism: Competition and Institutional Change in China" and "Performance of Foreign Enterprises in China: The Impact of Order and Mode of Market Entry."

Oliver Yau, one of Li's co-authors and a colleague at City University, said there was nothing very controversial about Li's work.

"There's virtually nothing sensitive at all," Yau said. "That's why we're all a little surprised by the news that he's been detained by the Chinese government."

Liu said that some of her husband's writings criticized Beijing's policies and spoke of political reform. She also said Li had been active in the U.S. on behalf of the students involved in the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, during which hundreds and perhaps thousands of demonstrators were killed.

One of Li's articles appeared in a 1999 collection edited by Andrew Nathan, a China scholar at Columbia University who recently helped edit a book, "The Tiananmen Papers," that is purportedly an authentic account of the discussions of top Chinese leaders in the weeks leading up to the 1989 massacre.

The book mentions Li's father, Li Honglin, a prominent former propaganda official and liberal academic who was ousted by the government at the time for his reform-minded views. The elder Li now lives with his son's family in Hong Kong.

Beijing has dismissed "The Tiananmen Papers" as a fabrication.

The U.S. Embassy spokesman, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, said Beijing had so far complied with bilateral agreements in its handling of the Li issue. The embassy was notified within four days of his detention, and the consular visit soon followed.

By contrast, in Gao's case, her 5-year-old son--a U.S. citizen by birth--was separated from his parents and held for days before the U.S. side was notified. Officials in Washington have called the treatment "outrageous." President Bush raised the matter in his talks in Washington last week with Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen.

Gao, 40, has been in custody since Feb. 11. Her family has rejected the spying allegations leveled against her, saying she was simply an academic conducting research.

Her husband took the oath of U.S. citizenship Friday in Washington before members of Congress. The couple had completed all the steps to become Americans save the swearing in before they traveled to China last month.

The detentions of Gao and Li come just weeks before the United Nations is to take up a U.S.-backed resolution in Geneva condemning China for human rights abuses.

Li's arrest is the fourth in two years of an American or U.S.-based scholar. One of the previous detainees, Stanford University researcher Hua Di, was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison for allegedly leaking Chinese state secrets.

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