China lets dissident go in nod to Paulson

By Benjamin Kang Lim, BEIJING, Reuters

A Boston-based Chinese democracy campaigner has returned home after serving five years in a Chinese prison on charges of stealing into the country and spying for Taiwan, his brother and a Web site said on Monday.

U.S. President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the U.S. Congress had urged Chinese President Hu Jintao to release Yang Jianli, a permanent U.S. resident with degrees from Harvard and Berkeley universities.

Yang, 44, was released from prison in April, but Chinese authorities had refused to issue him a passport, grant him residency status or allow his Chinese-American wife, Christina Fu, to visit him in Beijing.

China changed its mind for unknown reasons, the brother, Yang Jianjun, said by telephone. He declined further comment.

Yang flew from Beijing to San Francisco en route to Boston last Saturday accompanied by a diplomat from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, said his brother and, a Chinese-language Web site run by San Francisco-based dissident journalist Zhang Weiguo.

A source with knowledge of the case who requested anonymity said Yang was issued a Chinese passport, a sign he could visit China again and a rare display of official tolerance ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“The Chinese government gave Paulson face,” the source with close ties to the family told Reuters, referring to U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson who had also sought Yang’s release. The Web site said Yang was greeted at the Boston airport by his wife and 12-year-old son. He is scheduled to hold a news conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Yang stole into China in 2002 on a friend’s Chinese passport to observe labour unrest in northeast China because Chinese authorities refused to renew his passport.

He has opted against assuming U.S. citizenship because he hopes to run for public office when China becomes a democracy one day.

Months before his prison sentence ended, authorities offered to release Yang on parole and deport him.

But he refused insisting that he be allowed to pay respects to his father, who died in 2005 aged 92 after returning to China from the United States to plead with authorities to free his dissident son.

Yang had lived in exile in Boston because of his involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests which were crushed by the army with heavy loss of life.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.