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US man jailed in China is freed

Consultant was on Bush's priority list

BEIJING -- China released a US businessman it jailed more than three years ago on charges of illegally obtaining state secrets and bribery and sent him to the United States yesterday, apparently in an attempt to address US complaints about its human rights record.

Fong Fuming, 68, of West Orange, N.J., an electric-power consultant who often acted as an agent for American and other foreign companies seeking power-related contracts in China, was among a handful of prisoners that the Bush administration had put on a priority list and repeatedly pressed the Chinese government to release.

China routinely frees political prisoners before or after important summit meetings with the United States, and the decision to reduce Fong's prison sentence by nearly two years and deport him comes just days after President Bush met with President Hu Jintao of China at a regional economic conference in Bangkok.

Bush mentioned specific prisoners in the meeting, according to human rights activists who have been briefed by the administration. However, it was unclear whether Fong was among them. A senior State Department official listed Fong's case and those of two other prisoners in testimony about US-China relations before Congress last month.

Fong's release appeared part of an effort by Beijing to answer US complaints that it broke human rights commitments made during talks in December, including pledges to invite UN human rights investigators and a US commission on religious freedom to the country. The dispute has been a sore point at a time when US officials have been praising China for pressuring North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arms program.

China had questioned whether it made any commitments during the human rights talks, but recently acknowledged some of the pledges after US officials began complaining publicly. For example, China has agreed to hold discussions with American legal specialists about its parole review system for people imprisoned for committing "counter-revolution," a political crime that dates from the rule of Mao Zedong, founder of the People's Republic of China. The counter-revolution law was replaced in the 1990s by laws against endangering national security.

Fong is the first prisoner on the Bush administration's priority list to be released in nearly nine months. China released several individuals on the lists last year, but stopped soon after the release of the longtime Chinese democracy activist Xu Wenli.

One of the few Americans ever arrested under China's vague state secrets laws, Fong was portrayed in the Chinese media as a US spy. The charges against him were related to $245,000 in bribes he allegedly paid Chinese officials and technical documents he obtained to help foreign firms win power construction projects in the 1990s.

He denied the bribery charges and said the documents he obtained were not labeled secret, and in some cases were provided by his foreign clients, according to his lawyers.

A former power industry official in China, Fong immigrated to the United States in the 1980s and was naturalized as a US citizen in 1994.

He was detained in February 2000 shortly after arriving in Beijing for meetings with an American company bidding for a power transmission project and waited more than two years before he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

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