The detention of Harry Wu, who has testified before the US Senate against the Chinese government, comes at a time when relations between Peking and Washington are under stress. The US last night called on China to release Mr Wu.
China withdrew its ambassador from Washington two weeks ago in protest at a private visit to the United States earlier this month by President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan, whose claims to sovereignty China scornfully rejects.
Last week, the White House said that it was considering imposing economic sanctions on China after the CIA claimed in a report that China had been selling missile technology to Iran and Pakistan, possibly in contravention of international arms-trade accords.
A State Department official said yesterday that under a consular agreement, China is supposed to inform the US within 48 hours of the detention of an American citizen.
But while Mr Wu had been detained on 19 June, the US Embassy in Peking had only been notified on 23 June.
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that Mr Wu, who had spent 25 years in Chinese labour camps before emigrating to the US, had been detained as he tried to enter China from Kazakhstan.
While Mr Wu had a US passport and a valid Chinese visa, he had been detained because of illegal trips that he had made into China last year, the spokesman said. Mr Wu told a US Senate hearing in May that the Chinese authorities regularly removed body parts from prisoners who had been executed and then sold them for up to $30,000 (pounds 18,000) apiece.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday that Mr Wu was being put up in a hotel for free and was undergoing a medical check-up.Reuse content