Wu's return clears the way for Hillary

UN Women's Conference: White House confirms that First Lady will go to Peking but British delegates suspect Chinese of political motives in delays

RUPERT CORNWELL

Washington

Quoting Ernest Hemingway and proclaiming his pride in being an American, the human- rights campaigner Harry Wu is back on US soil, clearing the way for the White House to announce last night that Hillary Clinton will travel to Peking to attend the UN women's conference in 10 days' time.

Hours after Mr Wu, exhausted and weakened by his two months in captivity, had arrived in San Francisco from Shanghai, the White House said the First Lady would definitely make the trip. But officials repeated that the Chinese- American activist's release was not part of any deal with the Chinese authorities.

Mrs Clinton will spend two days in China and will speak at the conference, which the White House said "presents a significant opportunity to chart further gains in the status of women". She will be honorary chairwoman of the US delegation, to be led by the United Nations ambassador, Madeleine Albright, who said Mr Wu's release "sure makes it a lot easier". Ching Lee, Mr Wu's wife, also gave her blessing to the trip.

But the political reverberations of the affair are far from over, as Republican leaders urge the White House to have Mrs Clinton boycott the meeting entirely. Washington, said the Senate Majority Leader, Bob Dole, should have nothing to do with "this misguided conference with its left- wing ideological agenda."

Mrs Clinton's decision to go ensures China will feature in the 1996 election campaign, as a pretext for Mr Dole and others to assail Mr Clinton for foreign-policy spinelessness, in appeasing a regime which bullies its neighbours and tramples human rights. And whatever happens, Sino-American ties will be fraught long after the Wu affair is a mere memory.

For the time being, however, the man in the middle of the fuss was just delighted to be back home in Milpitas, 50 miles from San Francisco. Limping from a back condition which went untreated during his imprisonment, Mr Wu declared he was grateful to be an American.

"Chinese officials told me 'America can do nothing'," he said as he described his life behind bars without music, radio or newspapers. "But if I was not American, I don't think I could be out." He then quoted Hemingway - "The man is not made for defeat" - to show how, despite his frail appearance, he had survived his ordeal. "I think they can only destroy a man; they cannot defeat him."

Meanwhile, Under-Secretary of State Peter Tarnoff, the third-ranking State Department official, today starts talks in Peking aimed at lessening tension on a range of issues, not just human rights but trade, weapons proliferation and Taiwan. For all the differences, the Chinese seem keen to keep lines of communication with the US open. In the days before Mr Wu's trial, sentencing and expulsion, California's Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein was in Peking, where she had talks on his fate with senior Chinese officials, including President Jiang Zemin.

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