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China may free detained scholars

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HANOI, Vietnam — Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday night that several cases involving detained U.S.-based scholars in China "are on the way to resolution."

Powell, commenting after a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, strongly hinted that China will deport two such scholars who were convicted Tuesday by a Chinese court on charges of spying for Taiwan.

He said a formal announcement by China was expected within 24 hours.

"I think the relationship is on the upswing now, now that these irritations are behind us," Powell said, speaking to reporters.

On Tuesday, the Bush administration reacted sharply when a Chinese court convicted Gao Zhan and Qin Guangguang and sentenced them to 10-year prison terms on spy charges. Both are Chinese-born U.S. residents.

The convictions appeared to cast a pall over Powell's planned visit to Beijing on Saturday. But with China's apparent decision to resolve the issues, Powell said, "I know they are anxious to move forward." He is expected to meet with President Jiang Zemin and other top officials.

Powell did not mention either Gao or Qin by name. Both have asked the authorities for their release on humanitarian grounds. A senior U.S. official said the cases of Gao and Qin were the only ones discussed specifically by Powell and Tang.

Powell said he is optimistic about Sino-American relations because "they believe that we have a role to play in the region, they are not trying to squeeze us out."

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sun Yixi, did not go as far as Powell in describing China's plans for detained U.S.-based scholars.

Briefing reporters, Sun said he had not heard anything about a resolution of any detainee cases within 24 hours, as Powell had claimed.

Confirming that both had requested medical parole, Sun said their cases are being considered in a timely manner by a Chinese court.

Earlier Wednesday, China deported a Chinese-born American business professor, Li Shaomin, after he was convicted of spying earlier this month.

Li left Beijing and headed for San Francisco. Powell said he was very pleased by the Chinese action in that case.

Powell is here to attend a meeting of leaders from the Asia-Pacific region. He broke away from the talks in midafternoon for a 30-minute stroll around a nearby lake; a gaggle of journalists struggled to keep up. He stopped several times to talk to Vietnamese. It was his first visit to Vietnam since he served here as a soldier more than three decades ago

A passing Vietnamese on a motorbike shouted, "I want to come to your country."

A Chinese decision to deport Gao and Qin before Saturday would improve the atmosphere considerably for Powell's meetings in Beijing.