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A U.S.-based scholar accused by China of espionage will go on trial this week — just days before Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives in Beijing for a visit aimed at improving strained relations. Bai Xuebiao, a lawyer for sociologist Gao Zhan, said Beijing’s No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court scheduled the trial to begin Tuesday. The timing suggested China did not want Gao’s case to cloud Powell’s visit, his first as secretary of state. “I head to China confident that we can build a more stable, more constructive relationship with the Chinese,” Powell said in Washington, adding that he will raise U.S. concerns about weapons proliferation, human rights and religious issues. China’s detention of Gao and other scholars and business people with U.S. links have added to tensions between Beijing and Washington. The trial will come one day after Clark Randt, the incoming U.S. ambassador to China, takes up his post Monday. Gao, who works at American University in Washington, was detained Feb. 11 at Beijing’s airport during a family trip to China. Her detention caused a diplomatic uproar because Chinese authorities also temporarily held her 5-year-old son, a U.S. citizen, without notifying the U.S. Embassy as required by treaty. If convicted of espionage, Gao could face between three years and life imprisonment. But Bai said he was heartened by a court’s decision on July 14 to deport rather than jail another scholar, Li Shaomin, convicted of spying in a case linked to Gao’s. “It will have an effect,” Bai said. “These two cases are connected. The handling of Li Shaomin reflected how seriously the court regarded the case. It wasn’t extremely serious.” Gao will be tried by the same court that tried Li. But Li is a U.S. citizen while Gao is Chinese and only has permanent residency in the United States. That makes it unclear whether the court could order her expulsion, too. Prosecutors alleged that Li spied for Taiwan, the self-governing island Beijing views as a renegade province. But Bai said Gao’s indictment does not mention Taiwan. Bai and another lawyer from the Lu Tong United Law Firm will represent Gao in court. They are scheduled to visit Gao today to determine how she wants to plead, Bai said. He said they would argue either that she is innocent or committed only minor crimes. Bai refused to detail the case or the evidence against Gao. But a lawyer representing her family in the United States, Jerome A. Cohen, said Gao gave Li photocopied book and magazine articles about Taiwan and its relations with China. Cohen described the exchanges as scholarly and said Gao insists she had no reason to know the documents were secret. “She does not admit that she committed the crime of espionage but she does admit that she did some things,” Bai said. “But she doesn’t think that the things she did constituted a crime.” A Chinese scholar who gave Gao the documents also is in detention, and Bai said he has been indicted. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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