Turmoil In China : The Struggle for Power : Arrest of Dissident in U.S. Embassy Is Sought by China

Times Staff Writers

In action bringing China and the United States into diplomatic confrontation over issues of human rights and national sovereignty, Chinese authorities Sunday issued an arrest warrant for pro-democracy activist Fang Lizhi, who has taken refuge at the U.S. Embassy here.

Fang, 53, a respected astrophysicist, and his wife, Beijing University physics Prof. Li Shuxian--also at the embassy and whose arrest also is being sought--are charged with "counterrevolutionary propaganda and instigation" in connection with a recent wave of pro-democracy student demonstrations.

The move against Fang and Li, also 53, is part of a broader sweep of dissidents and protesters taking shape in the wake of a bloody June 4 martial-law crackdown in Beijing in which at least several hundred people died.

Another well-known dissident, Ren Wanding--who had been imprisoned from 1979 to 1983 for his role in pro-democracy activity in the late 1970s--was arrested at his home Saturday evening, the ABC television network reported.

Underground Chairman

Shanghai Radio reported the arrests of Weng Zhengming, described as the chairman of an underground opposition group called the China Youth Democratic Party, and of Yao Yongzhan, described as a leader of the city's outlawed Autonomous Student Union.

Yao, who is from Hong Kong, was accompanied to Shanghai's airport by a British diplomat who unsuccessfully sought to ensure his safe departure. Chinese residents of the British colony, which is due to revert to Beijing's control in 1997, travel in China under special "return home permits" that put them in an ambiguous legal status somewhere between that of foreigners and Chinese citizens.

The state-run national television news on Sunday evening reported the arrests in various cities of dozens of additional people accused of leading or participating in anti-government protests. Some were shown being questioned at gunpoint while in police custody.

In Washington, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said he would not speculate on what the Administration would do about any Chinese demand that the embassy in Beijing surrender Fang to the authorities there.

He suggested that President Bush is in no hurry to make a move about Fang, perhaps hoping that the Chinese would back down when confronted by a resolute American position.

A State Department spokeswoman also declined to discuss what the next U.S. move might be. Daria Novak said that the United States has a general policy of harboring political dissidents who face death, but she would not comment specifically on Fang's case.

"Whenever we have a person we feel is in imminent danger of death, we would give them shelter in the embassy," she said.

The official New China News Agency reported that Fang and Li have been accused of "committing crimes of counterrevolutionary propaganda and instigation . . . before and during the recent turmoil, and before the counterrevolutionary rebellion."

Prominent Reformists

Fang and his wife have been prominent advocates of deep democratic reform in China for several years.

In 1987, Fang was expelled from the Communist Party for allegedly instigating a wave of pro-democracy student protests. Li has until now retained Communist Party membership, even while backing democratic reforms in virtually the same language as Fang.

In an expression of support for Fang's views by Chinese intellectuals, including reformists within the Communist Party, Li was elected a deputy to the People's Congress of Beijing's Haidian District soon after her husband's expulsion from the party. Haidian is a campus neighborhood in northwest Beijing that contains the largest concentration of elite universities and high-technology industries anywhere in China.

The New China News Agency, citing Li's membership in the local People's Congress, reported that the order for her arrest was also approved by that body's standing committee.

Quick Resolution Sought

Speaking shortly before the warrants were announced, U.S. Ambassador James R. Lilley said in a telephone interview on CBS's "Face the Nation" that he hoped the standoff over Fang could be resolved soon.

Beijing has bitterly protested the U.S. action granting refuge to Fang and Li as a violation of international and Chinese laws.

Chinese authorities have described Fang as a "traitor," a charge that raises the possibility of a death sentence. Criticism was intensified Sunday with broadcast on the evening television news of a series of letters, allegedly written by ordinary citizens, blasting Fang and the U.S. decision to grant him refuge.

"His statements and actions have brought great suffering to the nation," declared one letter, which accused Fang and Li of having "created turmoil."

"If they are not sentenced, it will be difficult to calm the popular indignation," the letter added.

A prominent China-watcher in the United States, A. Doak Barnett of Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, said Sunday that the arrest warrant for Fang significantly raises the risk of a serious China-U.S. diplomatic rift.

No Compromise Seen

"I don't see, once having given him refuge, that the U.S. government is likely to negotiate some sort of turnover. The Chinese, too, have taken a hard position that reduces the chance they would accept any compromise exit. It seems to me we're in a stalemate and I don't know how it's going to come out," Barnett said.

Diplomats from European and Asian countries who spoke with reporters in Beijing indicated that the confrontation over Fang could escalate into a serious crisis with profound effects on U.S.-China relations.

A variety of scenarios seem possible in the days or weeks ahead: a battle confined to words and diplomatic maneuvers, the eruption of Chinese government-instigated demonstrations outside the embassy, harassment of U.S. diplomats or other Americans in China, an actual physical attack on the embassy, or a standoff in which Fang and Li would become long-term embassy residents.

"If the Chinese are foolish enough to try and use force to bring Fang and his wife out then it would be disastrous for relations with the United States," an Asian diplomat commented to Reuters news agency.

The U.S. Embassy has urged all American citizens, except for embassy staff, to leave China.

Dependents Already Evacuated

Dependents of U.S. diplomatic personnel were evacuated last week after martial-law troops sprayed several high-rise apartment buildings in the capital's largest foreign residential compound with dozens of rounds of automatic weapons fire. Authorities later said the troops believed they were being fired on by a sniper. It still is not clear whether a sniper really existed. There were no injuries in the incident.

A U.S. Embassy official who spoke with the Associated Press on Sunday said there is no indication that the Chinese are giving any consideration to entering the embassy to seize Fang and Li.

"That would be a very serious violation of the Geneva Convention," the official said, speaking on condition that his name not be used.

The official said that some Chinese students who took part in the pro-democracy protests that led to the crackdown had called the embassy to inquire about receiving shelter but that none had come.

"Basically the ambassador is saying we'll examine different cases as they come up," he added. "We're not putting out the welcome mat."

Unable to Do More

The official also pointed out that the embassy is unable to do more than provide physical protection within the U.S. compound.

"Obviously we can't give anybody asylum (in the United States) because you can't get anyone out of the country," he said.

A spokesman at the embassy called Fang's presence "temporary refuge."

It is unclear what fate may await Ren, 44, the former political prisoner arrested by Chinese authorities Saturday. After initially keeping a low profile after his 1983 release from prison, Ren, who works as an accountant, has over the past year been among the boldest dissidents in China. He has given interviews to Western reporters and released essays for publication. He did not play a major role in the recent student protests, but on one occasion he appeared at the Monument to the People's Heroes in Tian An Men Square and spoke to a crowd there.

Police Came to Their Home

Ren's wife passed word through an American television reporter on Sunday that half a dozen plainclothes police came to their home the previous evening with a search warrant--but no arrest warrant--and took Ren away, saying that they wanted to "discuss problems" with him. The police also confiscated magazines and copies of articles Ren had written, she said.

"He said at the time, before he was taken out, 'Everything I have done is within the bounds of the constitution. I am at total peace with myself, and would never run and hide.' "

Ren's wife said her only concern is "for the safety of my husband, myself and our 12-year-old daughter."

"All he did is write about the government's past mistakes," she said.

A general crackdown on suspected anti-government demonstrators accelerated in cities across China.

In the northeastern city of Changchun, authorities paraded at least two dozen detainees in front of a mass rally. In the ancient central China city of Xian, the government outlawed possession of "reactionary" pamphlets, photographs and other printed material.

Verbal Attacks

Chinese television also continued its verbal attacks Sunday on the Voice of America, accusing it of spreading falsehoods and sympathizing with protesters. The Chinese media portray the protests as a violent, unconstitutional "counterrevolutionary rebellion." Angry crowds destroyed military vehicles in response to the killings, but the media have portrayed the events in reverse, as if the military crackdown was a response to violent rioting.

In the face of the harsh rhetoric and widespread security net, many of the leaders of the seven-week-long pro-democracy protests that began in mid-April have gone into hiding and have not yet been arrested.

The Hong Kong newspaper Wen Hui Bao--which for decades has been a leading pro-Beijing daily but now is fiercely critical of the violent martial-law crackdown--reported in its Sunday editions that Qiao Shi, a Politburo Standing Committee member in charge of security affairs, has been formally named acting chief of the Communist Party.

There had previously been indications in the official Chinese media that Qiao was being treated as acting head of the party. Times staff writer John M. Broder contributed to this story in Washington.

KEY DISSIDENTS IN STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRACY Fang Lizhi, 53, astrophysicist . . . has long made bold calls for political and intellectual freedom that rankle Communist Party leaders . . . in 1987, expelled from party and fired from post at provincial university for allegedly inciting student demonstrations in 1986 . . . was center of diplomatic furor this year when Chinese officials barred him from attending a dinner given by visiting President Bush . . . seen by liberal intellectuals as the "Andrei Sakharov of China" . . . was sent to work in railway gang during 1966-76 Cultural Revolution . . . made overseas trip in 1988 to Australia and Hong Kong but barred from other academic travel . . . married to physics professor Li Shuxian.

Li Shuxian, 53, Beijing University physics professor . . . in April, encouraged students to exercise their constitutional right to speak out . . . Communist Party member who is bitter critic of regime . . . in 1987 was elected to lowest-level People's Congress in district containing the university . . . daughter of doctor who died when she was 5 years old . . . spent youth in poverty . . . welcomed the 1949 revolution and joined the party in 1954 . . . was expelled three years later in anti-rightist campaign . . . finally reinstated with other purge victims in 1979 . . . during Cultural Revolution spent two years planting rice . . . married to Fang Lizhi . . . has son Fang Ke.

Ren Wanding, 44, accountant at Beijing equipment installation company . . . one of leaders of 1978-79 Democracy Wall movement--a brief period in which intellectuals openly debated politics in posters pasted on wall in central Beijing . . . was jailed from 1979-1983, including 12 months in solitary, without charge . . . several fellow dissidents of that period remain in jail . . . broke long silence in 1988 by publishing 22-page essay abroad commemorating 10th anniversary of the wall . . . has urged foreigners to aid China only if human rights record improves . . . wife lives illegally in Beijing since authorities refuse to transfer her residence permit . . . has 12-year-old daughter.

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