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U.S. aghast at China guilty verdict

U.S. professor is sentenced to a 10-year prison term

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HANOI — The United States is dismayed by China's guilty verdict and 10-year prison term handed down against a U.S.-based scholar, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.

The official, asking not to be identified, said the verdict in the case of Gao Zhan, an American university professor who is a Chinese citizen, is certain to come up when Secretary of State Colin Powell visits China on Saturday.

The official, speaking to reporters aboard Powell's plane, also expressed disappointment that China turned down a U.S. request that an American official be allowed to witness the trial.

Another U.S. concern was that the trial lasted only four hours, raising questions about Gao's ability to mount a defense, the official said.

After Gao's conviction, a second U.S.-based scholar, Qin Guangguang, also was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years.

"We're following it carefully, and we'll see what happens next," Powell, referring to China's prosecution of the two, said after arriving in Vietnam following an 18-hour visit to Japan..

A State Department official spoke with reporters just as Powell's plane was entering Chinese air space while en route to Hanoi.

Powell also plans to visit South Korea, China and Australia before returning home next week. Powell is joining more than 20 colleagues from the Asia-Pacific region here. The visit is Powell's first to Vietnam since his wartime service in this country as a young Army officer 32 years ago.

Powell planned an evening meeting here with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and also will meet with China's foreign minister, Tang Jiaxun, on Wednesday.

The Bush administration has never said that Gao was innocent but instead had expressed hope that she would be allowed to be reunited with her husband and 5-year old son.

Her husband, Xue Donghua, a U.S. citizen, has insisted all along that there was no basis for China's allegations that she was spying for Taiwan. Gao, who is a legal resident of the United States, was arrested in February.

There is a sharp contrast between China's treatment of Gao compared with that of Li Shaomin, an American citizen who also was arrested in February and accused of spying for Taiwan.

Li was convicted of the charges earlier this month but will be allowed to leave the country under a deportation order. There is no indication that Gao will be allowed to depart.

On Monday, while flying to Japan, Powell used unusually strong language to discuss China's human rights record.

He said the United States is looking for a basic change in China's attitude toward human rights and added that China will never become a full fledged member of the international community until it moves toward creating a democratic system.

And in an apparent reference to the cases of Li and Gao, he said it is not enough for China to resolve occasional rights cases that have attracted international attention.

Earlier Tuesday, Powell pledged that the United States will work with other countries to overcome differences on how to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Powell spoke to reporters in Tokyo after negotiators in Bonn, Germany, ignored U.S. objections and agreed to rules for trying to deal with the problem.