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Harry Wu, a Chinese-American who spent two decades in China's prison camps and documented their abuses, was convicted Thursday of spying and expelled from China.

The government-run Xinhua News Agency said in a one-sentence report that Wu left China Thursday evening. It gave no other details.Thursday morning, a Chinese court sentenced Wu to a 15-year jail term and said he should be expelled.

His speedy expulsion could pave the way to improving Sino-U.S. relations, which have sunk to their lowest level since ties were established in 1979.

Resolution of the case also paves the way for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to attend the U.N.-sponsored World Conference on Women next month in Beijing.

Wu, who spent 19 years in Chinese labor camps before immigrating to the United States in 1985, had made four clandestine trips to China since 1991 to research, document and film abuses in China's extensive "reform-through-labor," or laogai, system.

He was taken into custody on June 19 as he attempted to enter China a fifth time, this time at a remote border crossing with Kazakhstan.

Wu's trial was not open to foreign reporters and was not announced in advance. U.S. Embassy spokesman Robert Laing said Wu and his attorney decided not to appeal. A consular official attended the trial, he said.

The first word of the trial and sentencing came Thursday morning from Xinhua, which moved increasingly detailed dispatches on Wu's crimes throughout the day.

Xinhua also filed a long report Thursday night based on an interview with the court's chief judge that detailed Wu's crimes, including alleged offenses dating back to his college years, and quoted from his letter of confession.

"After thinking carefully and self-examination, I have sincerely drawn the conclusion that the following facts show that I have damaged the interests of the Chinese government and the Chinese people directly or indirectly and that I have violated Chinese laws," Xinhua quoted the confession as saying.

Wu's conviction came as U.S. Undersecretary of State Peter Tarnoff arrived in China. Tarnoff is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Beijing since the rift over Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui's June visit to the United States.