China expels scholar on 'spying' charges

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The United States yesterday welcomed the abrupt expulsion by China of an American-Chinese scholar who had been detained five months ago on charges of spying for Taiwan.

A court in Beijing convicted the Hong Kong-based academic, Li Shaomin, of the espionage charges but then ordered his deportation from the country. There was no word, however, on when his expulsion would happen or of his immediate whereabouts.

The ruling came just hours after China won its bid to stage the 2008 summer Olympic Games. It was widely greeted as a further attempt by the authorities in Beijing to repair the country's ragged human rights reputation.

Observers said it was also timed to dispel a major irritant in US-China relations just two weeks before the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, is due to make a fence-mending trip to the country. President George Bush hopes to visit later this year.

"We welcome China's decision to release Mr Li so that he can be reunited with his family,'' said a spokesman for the US Embassy in Beijing said. ''This has been a matter of great concern to many people in the United States -- and one we have raised at high levels with the Chinese government."

However, several US-linked scholars remain in custody in China on similar charges.