Less than a month before President Bush arrives for a summit here, Chinese police have freed an ailing U.S.-based businessman who had been detained since March, his wife said Thursday.
Police in Hohhot, the capital of the Inner Mongolia region, allowed entrepreneur Liu Yaping to return to his parents' apartment there Jan. 15. But they haven't handed over the passport and identification card Liu would need to seek medical treatment elsewhere.
"They told my husband that he would get everything back very soon," Liu's wife, Zhang Pei, said by phone from their home in Weston, Conn.
Zhang said her husband suffers from a brain aneurysm and gall bladder polyps. "He has lost like half his weight" since being detained, she said.
She added that during a visit by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) to China in August, police "released him, but later we found out it was a false release, so this time we're still trying to determine whether it's the same situation."
Since Liu's detention, diplomats, human rights groups and U.S. lawmakers have persistently lobbied the Chinese government for his release.
Liu was among several U.S. residents and citizens whose detentions prompted the State Department to issue a travel advisory in April. The notice said that ethnic Chinese who had close contacts with Taiwan or had publicly criticized the Chinese government should assess the risk of detention before traveling to China.
Liu, a former government employee in Hohhot, moved to the United States in the early 1990s with his son and wife, who is now a U.S. citizen.
Liu returned to Hohhot several times on business on a Chinese passport. Two years ago, he set up a company in Hohhot. He had just started the business when police froze his bank account and detained him on fraud and tax-evasion charges.
Liu's supporters allege that local law enforcement deprived him of his rights under Chinese law. Hohhot police, they charge, denied him medical care and, on the grounds that the case involved state secrets, deprived him of access to legal counsel.
Liu's wife said he has been held more than 10 months without trial, in violation of Chinese law.
The charges against Liu, his supporters say, were the result of a power struggle within the Hohhot police department.
Liu's release comes just days after a Chinese prison freed Ngawang Choephel, a Tibetan musicologist and former Fulbright scholar. Authorities released Choephel and returned him to the United States on medical parole after he served six years of an 18-year jail sentence after being convicted of espionage.
In preparation for Bush's visit next month, diplomatic advance teams are crisscrossing the Pacific, outlining what each side wants and can expect to get from the summit.
Analysts say China is seeking a commitment from the Bush administration that it opposes independence for Taiwan, which the mainland sees as a separatist province. Washington is likely to put human rights, including the release of dissidents and U.S. residents, high on its agenda.
Speaking in Hong Kong this week, the U.S. ambassador to China, Clark T. Randt Jr., called for Liu's release. "I earnestly hope that before the president visits Beijing in late February, I shall be able to report additional releases by China on humanitarian and medical grounds," he said.