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China releases writer accused of being a spy

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BEIJING — A Chinese-born American writer accused of spying for Taiwan "confessed to his crimes" and was expelled from the country Friday, state media said — the fourth U.S.-based scholar released from custody this year in the days before a top American official's visit.

Wu Jianmin was released from jail in southern China and "has left the country," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement. He "appeared in generally good health," the statement said.

Wu, 46, was taken into custody April 8. He is one of several Chinese-born academics, writers and entrepreneurs with American ties detained during the past year.

China's official Xinhua News Agency said he was expelled Friday by the State Security Department of Guangdong Province in southern China.

"Because he confessed to his crimes and disclosed his accomplices' criminal activities, Wu received light punishment," Xinhua said.

There was no independent confirmation that Wu had indeed confessed to anything.

The detention of U.S.-based scholars and businesspeople, be they American citizens or permanent residents, has been a sticking point in U.S.-China relations in recent years. Many critics of China within the United States consider the arrests to be politically motivated and designed to stifle dissent.

In recent months, though, releases of scholars have coincided with visits by American officials. This time, President Bush is set to visit China in three weeks for an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meeting in Shanghai.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman reached Friday night said she had no immediate comment on Wu's case or whether it was related to Bush's visit.

But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States had been talking with China about Wu's case for several months. He did not elaborate.

"The visits of leaders ... often are preceded by an attempt to clear the agenda of relatively minor but still important irritations," said Jerome Cohen, who represents Liu Yaping and Fong Fuming, two U.S. residents still held in China.

Three other scholars were convicted this summer of spying for rival Taiwan, but it wasn't clear whether Wu's case was related to theirs.

The other three — naturalized American citizen Li Shaomin and U.S. residents Gao Zhan and Qin Guangguang — were tried and sent back to the United States just before Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit in July.

Wu is a former teacher at the ruling Communist Party's Central Party School in Beijing and also a reporter, political activists have said.

He had been accused of "taking money from Taiwan spy organs and entering the Chinese mainland to gather intelligence," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in August. It said he had been formally arrested May 26 on spying charges.

Neither Xinhua nor the U.S. Embassy statement addressed whether he was tried before his expulsion, as happened earlier this year with three other scholars — one Chinese-born U.S. citizen and two permanent U.S. residents — accused of spying for Taiwan.

"We do not have access to specific information about Mr. Wu's case," a U.S. Embassy official said, reading from the statement. He said the Chinese government "will speak for itself as to its reasons for releasing Mr. Wu."

"The president's visit provides an opportunity for further consideration by the Chinese leadership," Cohen said. "I'd like to see China go on and address the concerns of the foreign business community by addressing these other two cases."

Cohen, a New York University law professor and expert on Chinese law, has advised the families of several Chinese-born U.S. citizens and permanent residents detained recently in China — including Fong and Liu.

Unlike Wu, Both Fong and Liu, who is ill, are businessmen. Fong, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was imprisoned early last year and accused of bribing officials for secret documents. Liu, a permanent U.S. resident, has been detained since March, reportedly on charges of tax evasion and fraud.

Wu reportedly left China for the United States in 1988 and published a book about China's government following pro-democracy protests the following year. He became an American citizen and lived in New York City.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, but Beijing regards the island as part of its territory. The two sides actively spy on each other.