The detention of Wang Bingzhang, 50, who has lived in America for several years, will cast a shadow over today's start of an unprecedented three- week fact-finding mission to China of three US religious leaders, the first time such a visit has been permitted by the Chinese government.
The first of the three leaders arrived in Peking yesterday, for an 18-day visit which will include Tibet. Rabbi Arthur Schneier, from New York, will be joined by Reverend Don Argue, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Newark. President Jiang Zemin extended the invitation during his visit to Washington last autumn.
By coincidence or otherwise, a Christian activist, Gao Feng, 29, was released at the weekend after serving a two-and-a-half year sentence.
According to documents obtained by a human rights group a few years ago, Mr Wang has been on a Chinese list of exiled dissidents to be refused re-entry to China, but was not one of those who was supposed to be arrested on entry. However, Mr Wang last month outwitted border security guards by sneaking into China from Macau, using a false name. He was arrested on Friday along with a mainland-based mathematics teacher, Wang Tingjin, in Bangbu, Anhui province.
Reuters news agency said the men were on their way to photocopy documents.
One of Mr Wang's US friends, Fu Shenqi, yesterday said Mr Wang had come to China to take part in a secret meeting this month in north China to set up a new opposition group, to be called the Justice Party, which would campaign for democracy in China. "Wang Bingzhang is prepared to go to jail," Mr Fu told Reuters.
China's greatest fear is of co-ordinated action between exiled dissidents and the few remaining activists still at large inside China.Reuse content