Wang Dan, a leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, arrived in the United States Sunday after being freed from a Chinese jail. His release comes just two months before President Clinton's planned visit to Beijing.
"It's very welcome news," said White House national security spokesman Eric Rubin, who was with Clinton in Chile for the Summit of the Americas. "This is something we've raised repeatedly with the Chinese, and we consider it a very positive step."Wang, the second major Chinese dissident to be released in six months, was hospitalized for tests.
In the past, China has tried to use such releases to improve the atmosphere before high-level contacts, prompting human rights groups to accuse it of playing "hostage politics."
Wang's flight from Beijing arrived at Detroit Metropolitan Airport shortly before 9 a.m. and he was immediately taken to Henry Ford Hospital for evaluation.
"He has some fatigue. He's been through a lot in the last 48 hours," said Dr. Thomas C. Royer, chief medical officer at Henry Ford.
Royer said Wang complained of a chronic cough for several years and headaches, especially when he reads. Doctors said the cough may be related to allergies or chronic bronchitis.
Friends of Wang's were optimistic about his health.
"He's doing great. I'm so happy to see him doing so good," said Shen Tong, president of the Democracy for China Fund in Newton, Mass., and a former classmate of Wang's at Beijing University.
"He's in very good spirits. He's very upbeat," Shen said. "I think all those prison years made a difference, but it's a positive dif-ference."
As a student, Wang led marches and gave speeches during the Tian-anmen Square protests. After the army violently crushed the protests, Wang's name topped the government most-wanted list.
He served 31/2 years in prison and emerged unrepentant in 1993. Over 27 months - before he was taken away by police in May 1995 - Wang criticized the Communist Party in essays published abroad, met with other activists and petitioned for democracy.
His writings and meetings were used as evidence to convict him of plotting to subvert the government. He was convicted on charges of trying to overthrow the government and sentenced to 11 years in jail.
The official Xinhua News Agency said Wang was released on medical parole but did not give details. Wang has suffered for months with a throat infection and headaches that his family believes may indicate a brain tumor.
Wang, 29, was admitted to the hospital for at least an overnight stay but probably would not be held longer than 48 hours, Royer said.
White House officials notified the hospital of Wang's impending arrival late Saturday, Royer said.
"They told us he was probably frail and he was going to be very tired," he said. "They indicated he did have a cough, and we should be aware of that and look into it."
Mandarin Chinese-speaking doctors were on hand to communicate with Wang, Royer said.
Wang's mother, Wang Linyun, said in a telephone interview in Beijing that she saw her son briefly before he boarded the airplane.
"He's ill. He looked the same as he has for a while," she said.
Wang's release follows that of Wei Jingsheng, the most prominent government critic, who was sent to the United States in November.
China released Wang as a "pawn" in a strategy to ease criticism of its human rights record, Wei said Sunday in Italy.
"I think the Chinese Communist Party wants to diminish the pressure that's being exerted on it," Wei, who is touring Europe to voice his views, told The Associated Press. "That's why they are liberating us one by one."
Such releases suit China's recent policy of encouraging dissidents to leave, in hopes they will lose their political effectiveness in exile.
"It is good news for Wang Dan as an individual, except that once again, it appears to be a release conditional on exile," said Catherine Baber, spokeswoman for Amnesty International in Hong Kong.
Wang's parents had been asking the government for months to have him examined by specialists and to transfer him from a prison in northeastern China back to his hometown of Beijing.
In April, China denied that it made a deal with Washington to release Wang after the Clinton administration refrained from criticizing Beijing's human rights record in a U.N. resolution.