Reports that China's former top representative in Hong Kong is seeking political asylum in the United States were discounted Thursday by the Chinese government, which depicted Xu Jiatun's sojourn as simply a vacation.
China's declaration concerning Xu, who is believed to be in the Los Angeles area, contrasted sharply with press accounts that he is eager to defect because of continuing pressure over his sympathy toward the pro-democracy movement that was crushed in the bloody military crackdown on student protesters at Tian An Men Square last June.
Xu, as bureau chief of the Beijing-controlled New China News Agency in Hong Kong, had been China's de facto ambassador to the British colony from 1983 to last January. If reports of his defection prove true, he would be one of the most senior Communist Party members to defect since the party's rise to power in 1949.
Xu was believed to be staying with a Hong Kong businessman in the Los Angeles area.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Wednesday would neither confirm nor deny knowledge of Xu's intentions, in conformance with a long-standing policy of secrecy concerning the asylum process. Boucher confirmed that Xu had been issued a tourist visa and "our understanding is that he is now visiting the United States."
One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "I don't really think he wants to be tracked down. I don't think he wants to talk to the press. I think he wants to be quiet."
China's official statements Thursday represented its first reaction regarding Xu since speculation about his intentions began circulating earlier this week. "Xu Jiatun is in the United States for travel and a rest," a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told reporters. She declined further comment.
However, a Japanese newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, on Wednesday quoted Xu, 74, as saying that he left China because of continuing pressure from Communist Party officials over his opposition to the use of force against student demonstrators last June than left about 800 people dead.
Xu was also quoted as objecting to government interference with his authority over two Communist Party-controlled newspapers in Hong Kong, Wen Wei Pao and Ta Kung Pao. After Xu left for the United States, several of his colleagues in the Hong Kong news bureau were recalled to Beijing.
Xu, known for his fondness for Western lifestyle and customs, applied for and received a tourist visa to the United State in Hong Kong rather than Beijing--an action considered highly unusual for a member of the Communist Party. Some reports suggested that several family members, as few as three and as many as 10, are traveling with him.
The Japanese newspaper quoted Xu as saying that Premier Li Peng's government was preparing a political reprimand against him for his praise of capitalism and his close ties to former party chief Zhao Ziyang. Zhao was dismissed from his post last June and accused of several transgressions, including support for student protesters.
Times staff writer Jim Mann in Washington contributed to this report.