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U.S.-Based Activist in China on a False Passport Is Held

Asia: Dissident Yang Jianli, believed to be barred from entering the country, is being confined to a hotel by police, his wife says.


BEIJING — Police have detained a U.S.-based dissident who had been traveling through China on a false passport while researching a wave of recent labor protests, according to his wife.

Yang Jianli entered China on April 18 using a friend's passport, but he was stopped by police Friday trying to board an airplane in the southern city of Kunming. Police have since confined him to a room in a local hotel.

"I think he's just waiting for the police to decide what to do with him. I'm not sure they know who he is," said Yang's wife, speaking by telephone from Boston, where he heads the Foundation for China in the 21st Century, a group advocating nonviolent democratization in China.

Yang's detention comes during a politically sensitive time for China. Vice President Hu Jintao is beginning his first visit to the United States, just months before a major transition in China's leadership in which he is expected to assume the posts of president and head of the Communist Party.

Before his detention, Yang, 38, traveled to Liaoyang and other cities in the industrial northeast, where laid-off factory workers have mounted some of the biggest and longest protests in half a century of Communist rule. The demonstrations have led to the arrest of several protest organizers.

In the most recent edition of his Internet newsletter, ChinaEweekly, Yang wrote that the Chinese government has accused protesters in Liaoyang of collaborating with "overseas hostile forces" as a way of minimizing public sympathy for the workers and driving a wedge between democracy activists inside and outside the country.

"Overseas democracy activists should charge or sneak into China to coordinate" with domestic activists, Yang wrote April 10. Otherwise, he warned, exiled dissidents risk irrelevance, by being reduced to lobbying "foreign congresses, while out of touch with the actual work of the domestic democracy movement."

Most of China's best-known dissidents have been imprisoned or exiled abroad in recent years, and pro-democracy protests have all but disappeared since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. On China's streets today, protesters are usually unpaid pensioners, defrauded investors or overtaxed peasants.

Overseas, Chinese dissident groups have been dogged by personality clashes and bickering over tactics. Many inside China scoff at them and point to their fleeing abroad as a sign of self-serving motives.

A former doctoral student in mathematics at UC Berkeley, Yang returned to China in 1989 to participate in the democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. He later obtained a doctorate from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Yang's name is believed to be on a police blacklist of about 50 Chinese citizens living overseas who are barred from reentering the country, a practice that critics say violates international law.

Yang intended to "exercise his right to return home," and he has encouraged fellow dissidents to do likewise, said Zhang Weiguo, editor of Yang's newsletter.

In 1996 and 1999, Yang attempted to return to China through Hong Kong along with other high-profile dissidents but was turned back on both occasions, Zhang said.

Chinese authorities have refused to renew Yang's passport since it expired, Zhang added, leaving him with a U.S. permanent resident card as his only form of identification.

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