China Convicts U.S.-Based Scholars for Spying

B E I J I N G, July 24, 2001 -- Two U.S. residents were convicted by a Beijing court today and sentenced to 10 years in prison, reported state news agency Xinhua.

Gao Zhan and Qin Guangguang "collected intelligence for spy agencies in Taiwan, causing a serious threat to China's national security," Xinhua reported.

Gao, a 39-year-old researcher from the American University in Washington with permanent resident status in the U.S., was convicted for giving book and magazine-articles about Taiwan and its relations with China to a fellow American scholar.

That scholar, American business professor Li Shaomin, was convicted of spying for Taiwan on July 14.

Gao's lawyers say she knew some of the articles were not meant for widespread distribution, but said she had no reason to know they were secret.

"She admits that she did do some things for some people. But Gao Zhan herself does not regard these activities as espionage activities," her lawyer, Bai Xuebiao, told The Associated Press.

There were fewer details of the case against Qin. The U.S. Embassy would only say that he is a Chinese citizen with a U.S. green card.

Xinhua also reported that a Chinese scholar named Qu Wei was convicted today and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Qu Wei was convicted of "providing national secrets and intelligence to Li Shaomin and Gao Zhan," Xinhua reported.

After the verdict, Bai said Gao immediately applied for medical parole, citing serious heart problems that twice caused her breathing difficulties over the past two weeks.

Bai also said he would meet recommend that Gao appeal.

There was no immediate response from Chinese authorities.

An Issue Already on the Table

Ties between Washington and Beijing have already been fraying over the past year, with China's detention of at least five U.S.-associated academics and writers.

President Bush has appealed to his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, for their release.

U.S. officials said Secretary of State Colin Powell will raise Gao's case during his visit to Beijing later this week.

But China seems unwilling to negotiate. "We already have enough evidence to show that Gao Zhan was a spy for a Taiwanese spying outfit," foreign ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said. "She has admitted this, and her case is being handled entirely according to Chinese law."

Three Points of Contention

The case against Gao has been closely watched by Washington. State Department sources criticized China's refusal to allow a U.S. official to attend her trial, and expressed concerns that the speed of it may have prevented a reasonable defense.

The trial lasted only three hours, and the three judges at Beijing's No. 1 Intermediate People's Court deliberated for just 30 minutes before giving their verdict.

Diplomatic sources are also irritated at the circumstances surrounding Gao's Feb. 11 detention, during a family visit to China.

As a result of the detention, Chinese officials also temporarily held her 5-year-old son, an American citizen, without notifying the U.S. Embassy as required by treaty.

ABCNEWS' Chito Romana in Beijing contributed to this report.