SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. academic Li Shaomin, expelled from China following an espionage conviction that heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington, arrived in the United States Wednesday and was reunited with his family after five months in jail.
"I am very tired, I won't be able to answer any questions," Li said after arriving in San Francisco on a flight from Tokyo. "I am very glad to be home and to see my family."
China expelled Li Wednesday following his conviction, as Washington seethed over 10-year sentences for two other U.S.-based scholars on espionage charges.
An airport spokesman said Li—who had been held in China following his detention in February—was reunited with his wife and small daughter and was due to continue on his flight to Washington, D.C. later in the day.
China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Li—a management professor at City University in Hong Kong—was expelled one day after the conviction of U.S. permanent residents Gao Zhan and Qin Guangguang.
Li was put on a plane to San Francisco as Beijing appeared to be trying to improve relations with the United States by moving to resolve the cases ahead of a visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell Saturday.
The academic said he was grateful to the U.S. government for its help and support. "I would like to thank the U.S. government for its support and great help over these last five months," he told reporters shortly after his arrival.
Li declined to answer questions about his case or those of the other academics, and said he had not decided what he would do next.
Li, a naturalized American citizen who had worked in the United States, Hong Kong and China, was convicted of spying for Taiwan on July 14—one day after Beijing won the vote to host the 2008 Olympics despite Western criticism of its human rights record. The court did not impose a sentence and ordered him expelled.
Gao, accused of helping Li gather intelligence for Taiwan, was not formally ordered expelled after her conviction Tuesday because she is a Chinese citizen. Both insisted they were innocent.
But Gao asked for medical parole after her conviction, a means China has used in the past to expel convicted dissidents, and State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Washington was pressing the Chinese government "at every level" to free her.
Gao's U.S. lawyer, Jerome Cohen, said he hoped the sociologist at American University in Washington would be released in the next few days because of a heart condition.
The scholars were all detained earlier this year when Beijing's relations with the administration of President Bush were going through a very rocky start.
Ties worsened sharply when a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet collided over the South China Sea on April 1 and China held the American crew for 11 days before freeing them.