Trials have begun in China for an American citizen and a permanent U.S. resident on charges that they spied for Taiwan, the State Department said Thursday.
The two are among a string of U.S. passport holders who have been detained by China during the past year, prompting calls by members of Congress for punitive action against Beijing.
But the trials come at a time when the United States and China are talking publicly about an improvement in relations. Officials said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will visit China at the end of the month.
President Bush discussed the issue of U.S. citizens and legal residents detained in China during a 15-minute conversation Thursday with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer
“The president was direct, and the president’s concerns were noted,” Fleischer told reporters in Kennebunkport, Maine.
He said most of the leaders’ conversation was “very positive and upbeat.”
Bush arrived in Kennebunkport Thursday afternoon in a downpour for what he hopes will be a relaxing family reunion. The president celebrates his 55th birthday today.
White House spokesman Sean McCormack said of the detained scholars: “This administration continues to press for their fair treatment and release at every opportunity.”
There was speculation in official circles that the trials could lead to quick convictions of the two, followed by their deportation.
The U.S. citizen is Li Shaomin, who was formally charged in May. He is a business professor at City University of Hong Kong and was taken into custody Feb. 25 after walking across the border into China to visit a friend.
The permanent U.S. resident is Gao Zhan, an American University professor who was detained Feb. 11.
Gao’s husband, Xue Donghua, who lives in Virginia with their 5-year-old son, an American citizen, said Thursday that he had been hopeful that the trial may be a prelude to his wife’s early release.
He said his mood darkened when there was no official word that China was planning such action.
“I’m just going to keep working, keep the pressure on and hope for the best,” he said.
Xue said that Gao’s lawyers in China and in the U.S. were unaware that the trial had begun until he called them Thursday.