Sun, Mar 07, 2004 - Page 1 News List

China nixes US congressional trip

SINS OF COMMISSION The group, which was refused diplomatic-status visas, has made itself unwelcome by criticizing China's military buildup

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

China has rejected a visa application by a US congressional commission to visit the mainland next week on official business, despite the group's official sanction by the State Department and Congress, and an invitation by the US ambassador to Beijing Clark Randt, in what some observers view as a major Chinese slap to Washington, the Taipei Times has learned.

Members of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which has been critical of many of Beijing's actions, had applied for visas under their official passports issued by the State Department to meet with US and Chinese officials in Beijing as part of the commission's preparation for a biannual report on US-China relations due to be issued this spring.

But the authorities in Beijing on Wednesday refused to grant the visas, insisting the group travel on tourist visas under conditions that could have landed the members of the commission in Chinese prisons, a commission member said. The commission refused, and the trip was scrubbed.

The commission still plans to visit Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and will be in Taipei during the presidential election, sources say.

It would have been the commission's second trip to China. The first, in 2002, came before the commission issued its first report on China's economic, military and political situation, which was highly critical of China's military buildup and other activities.

It is uncertain why China took such a hard line toward the second trip, commission members say. It might be that the Beijing authorities simply do not like the commission and what it has been saying and doing.

The denial of the visas comes to light in the wake of the appearance of Hong Kong's leading pro-democracy advocate, Martin Lee (李柱銘), before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Hong Kong's democracy. Beijing has sharply condemned Lee's trip and the hearing as an interference in internal Chinese affairs, one of the most serious charges China can level against an outsider.

But commission members could not say whether the two events were directly linked, noting that China was "jerking around" the members on the visa issue well before the hearing or the Lee trip was scheduled.

In refusing to allow the group to travel on official passports, China laid down the following conditions for travel on non-official tourist visas, according to a letter the commission sent to Senate Majority Leader William Frist, a copy of which was obtained by the Taipei Times.

"1. That we state that we are not coming to China as members of the Commission; 2. that we state that are not conducting activities as members of the Commission; and 3. that we vow not to conduct activities that interfere in the internal affairs of China and Hong Kong."

Commission members view the first two conditions as insulting enough. But the third condition, they noted, could land them in prison, since China could view any effort to gain information or talk to Chinese people as interfering in the country's internal affairs, a serious crime that could carry long prison terms.

"We found that complying with these conditions would be inappropriate behavior for appointees of the Congressional leadership and would not allow us to effectively carry out our work on behalf of the Congress," commission chairman Roger Robinson and vice chairman Richard D'Amato wrote to Frist on Wednesday.

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