Skip to main content /transcript


How Can U.S.-Chinese Tensions be Resolved?

Aired April 5, 2001 - 12:30   ET


ROGER COSSACK, HOST: The spy plane standoff between the U.S. and Beijing enters its fifth day with no resolution in sight. Adding fuel to the fire, a Chinese-born U.S. academic now detained in China for 53 days, has been formally arrested and charged with espionage.


RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We do continue to raise our concerns with the Chinese government about this case. We continue to urge that she be released on humanitarian grounds. We are disturbed by the news that they have filed formal charges against Mrs. Gao.



JEROME COHEN, CHINESE LAW SPECIALIST: No one has been able to speak with Gao Zhan. This is the 53rd day of her detention. She's absolutely incommunicado: no lawyer, no husband, no child, no employer, no friend.


ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

COSSACK: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. The U.S. and China are both holding their ground in the standoff. Basically, the stalemate hinges on two words, "we're sorry."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has expressed regrets about the loss and presumed death of a Chinese pilot, but no apology. Last evening, Powell asked the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. to hand- deliver a letter to the vice premier, urging a release of the 24 U.S. Navy crew members of that spy plane grounded in China; but again, no apology.

Then there's the issue of Gao Zhan. She's one of four U.S. academics now in custody in China. Gao, her husband, Donghua Xue, and their five-year-old son were taken into custody at the Beijing Airport in early February as they prepared to return to the U.S. Gao's husband and son were released after nearly four weeks, but Gao was held, and remains incommunicado. Yesterday, she was charged formally. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

XUE DONGHUA, HUSBAND OF GAO ZHAN: This is not a coincidence, because right after our Navy military plane crash in China and they announced the arrest -- formally arrest my wife; before this, they were saying it's investigating. I really don't think this is a coincidence, but I think they used my wife as a victim.


COSSACK: Joining us today from New York is Jerome Cohen, Donghua Xue's attorney. And here in Washington we have Tom Hagen; Judith Lee, international trade attorney; Donghua Xue, who's wife is under arrest in China; and in the back row, Bridget Carper and Will Beverlyn.

I want to first go right to you, Mr. Xue. Tell us how it came to pass that you and your wife and your little boy were in China.

XUE: Well, we were in China for family visit for three weeks.

COSSACK: And when did you go there?

XUE: January. January 20th.

COSSACK: And how long were you in China before any problems happened?

XUE: We were there for three weeks. We have no idea what's going to happen. We were pretty happy, we have good time with the family.

COSSACK: Was there any suspicion on your part or your wife's part that something like this was going to happen?

XUE: No, no. We had no idea until the moment it happened.

COSSACK: Had you had any contacts with the Chinese government or any members of the embassy? Had your wife been in contact with them? Had she ever met them?

XUE: No, never, never. We have no communication with the Chinese side.

COSSACK: And did there come a day when suddenly somebody from the Chinese government just showed up at your parent's house and took all of you into custody?

XUE: No, in airport.

COSSACK: Tell us how that happened.

XUE: OK. On February 11th, when we were in Beijing International Airport and approaching the Northwest check-in counter, all of a sudden there's a group of people, plain clothes, they just took us and separate us, it all happened in several seconds. And we didn't even have a chance to talk or look at each other, then they put us in different cars and drove away.

COSSACK: What does your wife do? I know she's a Ph.D. What exactly does she do?

XUE: She's a researcher in American University. Her focus is on women issue and family issue and U.S. -- no -- China-Taiwan relation.

COSSACK: Relationships between China and Taiwan. Now, how long were the three of you kept by the Chinese government?

XUE: Well, my son and I were separately kept for 26 days and she's still in there.

COSSACK: Were you able to see your wife during those 26 days?

XUE: No. Since the first day, this is the 56th -- 53 days -- I think, I have no idea where she is out and about.

COSSACK: And you've never spoke to her since?

XUE: No.

COSSACK: Do you know what her condition is or how safe she is or what her health is?

XUE: I have no idea. That's the thing I concern most. Her health.

COSSACK: And has there been anybody on your behalf, from the embassy or any place that's been able to visit your wife?

XUE: No, no one has been able to visit her.

COSSACK: And you received no communications?

XUE: No.

COSSACK: Jerry, let's talk a little bit about the defense, and what you are trying to do in this situation. You have great experience with the Chinese government.

What are you doing and how are you going about doing it? This is certainly unusual, kind of, law that -- unusual kind of law experience, more than we usually have on BURDEN OF PROOF.

COHEN: Well, we are trying to mobilize all kinds of pressures, legal pressures and, of course, political pressures. We did it successfully last year in the case of the cultural revolution librarian Mr. Sung Yon Li (ph). We hope to have equal success with Gao Zhan.

We've retained Chinese counsel but thus far, as in previous cases, the State Security Bureau has refused to let Chinese counsel into the case. But we continue to try. There's been a number of obvious illegalities here. This show is called BURDEN OF PROOF. The BURDEN OF PROOF is on the Chinese side to back up their charges; they say espionage, but they produce not one fact in support of it and they don't give us access as you've heard to Dr. Gao, so that we can hear her side of the case. They haven't got any evidence whatever.

And talk about apology? I think it's time for the Chinese government to apologize for violating its own laws in dealing with Dr. Gao. They never gave the notice that they should have given to the family or employer that these people were detained for weeks, people thought they had been killed or kidnapped. They have never allowed counsel in. They've never subjected her to proper detention time limits.

They've held her now far beyond the usual time limits even for state security case...

COSSACK: Jerry, let me interrupt you a moment, and get to this point: what you are saying of course is horrifying, but it's almost Kafkaesque, if you will. The notion that suddenly three members of a family are in an airport preparing to come back to their home, when suddenly they're swooped down upon, and with no reason, the wife -- mother, in this particular situation -- is taken away and held incommunicado.

Why would you think something like this would happen? Why would the Chinese government suddenly select this woman to do this to?

COHEN: Well, we asked ourselves that. Of course, the SSB, China's KGB, operates for political motives. This is not the only case. Another case is that of an American citizen -- Professor Lee Shellman, who was locked up; again, he just disappeared two weeks after Dr. Gao was taken in. At least, he's had the benefit of two visits from American counselor officials, because he's a U.S. citizen and benefits from the agreement.

But I think in both cases, there's an attempt to intimidate the American academic community and especially people of Chinese dissent who has the greatest knowledge of China and the greatest contacts with China. There's been a hardening of the line since last fall against such scholarship.

China is trying to fight a rear guard action against living in a global world. They want to keep out information and they want to conceal information from the world. These are people who are studying China and they also are people who have contact -- academic exchanges -- with Taiwan, and I think the SSB wants to discourage contacts between people from the mainland and people from Taiwan.

COSSACK: Judith, if that is all true, what Jerry says; I mean, it seems to me -- perhaps I can't understand it -- but it seems to me that's by definition a losing proposition, because in this world we live in, the notion you are just going to suddenly, as a government, swoop down on people and for no reason at all hustle them off to jail and hold in this case a wife/mother incommunicado, around the rest of the world, not just here, can't play very well.

JUDITH LEE, INTERNATIONAL TRADE ATTORNEY: You are absolutely correct. It kind of shows a schizophrenia on the part of some of these players, because on the one hand, Jerry is absolutely right: they are very nervous about, especially Chinese academics that have an interest in both China and Taiwan.

On the other hand, in the business community, there's quite an effort, investment effort from the Taiwanese into mainland China and the Chinese government is by and large promoting that.

So I think what we are seeing here in the different reactions are different elements within the Chinese government, and you see that, too, to some extent, with the current situation in Hainan.

COSSACK: Let's take a break. When we come back, we'll have more on this situation and see if we can get to the bottom of it, as well as perhaps possible suggestions on how to resolve it. Stay with us.


COSSACK: Welcome back.

Mr. Xue, you were up on Capitol Hill this morning with Senator Allen. Tell us what went on.

XUE: This morning, Senator Allen introduced a private relief bill to grant my wife U.S. citizenship.

COSSACK: And what effect would that have if that bill is passed?

XUE: If that bill passed, it is going to have great protection of my wife, so...

COSSACK: Making her a U.S. citizen.

XUE: That's right. If she is U.S. citizen, if she should be allowed counselor visit. And if there's a charge or court process, she will be -- she will not only be -- abide by Chinese laws -- and they should do it according to international laws.

COSSACK: Jerry, what effect will that have upon your representation if, in fact, Senator Allen's bill is passed and Mr. Xue's wife becomes a U.S. citizen?

COHEN: Well, in the Sung (ph) case we know that it would have raised the political temperature very markedly and raised the very grave question of public-international law if Mr. Sung (ph) had been made a citizen while in Chinese detention.

Similarly, here I think it's likely to increase the pressure on China, although the Chinese government has pointed out that it would refuse to recognize her new status as an American citizen because she did not enter China using an American passport. And that would raise a question of how you interpret the U.S.-China counselor agreement. But the broader significance of making her a citizen, I think, is very important and it's political and it will be helpful because she was about to be sworn in when she returned, as her husband already has been sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

COSSACK: All right.

Judith, let's talk a little bit about foreign trade. Is foreign trade eventually going to be that weapon, if you will, that will cause things to happen in this case? And I'm talking about not only just in Mr. -- about Dr. Gao, but as well as the 24 American Navy crewmen that are in Hainan right now.

LEE: I think that, at some point foreign trade has to come into the picture. I think the Chinese may be looking at leveraging this incident, and perhaps even Dr. Gao's detention in other areas related to business, the WTO accession, the export controls issues with respect to China, NTR, the imports into the United States. So I think that there are a number of issues -- the economic and business-related issues -- and it's hopeful that the U.S. business community, the Chinese business community can somehow help to resolve the situation because, in fact, there is a lot to the U.S.-China relationship. There's an economic relationship, there's a foreign policy relationship, and all of these issues are going to start to affect one another.

COSSACK: Is this the kind of thing in which in China, for example, there would be a split between the military and perhaps the diplomatic corps?

LEE: Very much so...

COSSACK: In that the military wanting to, perhaps, take a much harder line, and the diplomatic corps, for lack of a better word, seeing a bigger picture, a broader picture, and saying that -- disagreeing with the military?

LEE: Sure; absolutely. There seems to be a growing split among the hard-liners in China and how they react to this military incident and other factions of the Chinese government that are looking ahead, that are looking to the Chinese bid for the Olympics in 2008. How is this going to affect it? How is it going to affect Chinese accession to the WTO?

The world is judging whether China would be able to play along with the economic rules that you need to abide by to be a member of the WTO. And so they're looking at this military and diplomatic incident to see if, you know, if there's a problem in complying with military protocol, international law, diplomatic relations -- you know, how is China expected to comply with the broader economic rules that you need to play by?


COSSACK: Jerry, go ahead. COHEN: There's a tension between the security forces, and that system under the state council and the foreign ministry and foreign economic systems under the state council. I'm glad I'm not the spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry because that poor individual has to speak lines given by the state security bureau, and that doesn't enhance the reputation of the foreign affairs ministry for credibility.

They've made some preposterous claims; in this case, for example, they denied that the Chinese government knew that Mr. Xue's son and Dr. Gao's son -- 5 years old -- was a U.S. citizen. Well, of course, immediately on seizing him they got his passport, which made it clear he was a U.S. citizen. They denied that Dr. Xue asked to have his son placed with the grandparents or asked the American embassy to be notified. Again, they weren't telling the truth, and people know these things don't have an air of credibility. How can we believe them without any evidence when they say, therefore, she's guilty of espionage?

COSSACK: Jerry, what kind of law do the Chinese have in place that would affect not only Dr. Gao, but the 24 American servicemen; and is there a law in place that they are being denied?

COHEN: Well, China has a criminal law and China has a code of criminal procedure. The problem is getting the police to apply it and getting the prosecutors, and sometimes even the courts, to enforce it.

In the case of our airmen, your report recently said the Chinese have identified them as lawbreakers. We know they're being detained. Therefore, they, too, as detainees, should have the right to access the council...

COSSACK: Jerry, I'm sorry, let me interrupt you a second. We have to now go to Natalie Allen in Atlanta with news from the State Department.




4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top