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Chinese dissident on hunger strike on eve of visit by Secretary Brown Ailing Chen to forgo food to protest his detention


BEIJING -- A day before U.S. Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown leaves for a key visit to China, a leading Chinese dissident was said to be starting a hunger strike yesterday to protest his medical care and detention.

The plan of jailed Chen Ziming, labeled by the government as one of the "black hands" behind the 1989 anti-government protests at Tiananmen Square, was disclosed by his wife, Wang Zhihong.

Mr. Chen is ill with cancer and Ms. Wang said he hadn't been able to consult with doctors.

Ms. Wang said she would hold a one-day sympathy hunger strike today to protest her husband's medical care, which she termed inadequate.

Besides cancer, Mr. Chen is diagnosed as having hepatitis B and heart disease.

Mr. Chen, one of China's best-known dissidents, published an underground journal during the late 1970s.

Later, he ran a private think tank and independently studied China's social problems.

Arrested in 1989

He was arrested after the 1989 demonstrations were crushed by the Chinese army, killing hundreds.

Sentenced to 13 years, he was released on medical parole last year as the United States was debating whether China would get normal "most-favored nation" trading status.

Mr. Chen's sister, Chen Zihua, said her brother's fate is closely related to China-U.S. relations.

"It's naive to think there's no link between my brother and the poor state of Sino-U.S. relations," Ms. Chen said. "You can see that when trade issues were being discussed in 1994 and China wanted to make a good impression in Washington, Ziming was released."

During his three-day trip starting tomorrow, Secretary Brown is scheduled to focus on trade and economic issues.

During a trip here last year, he played down human rights, preferring to discuss deals signed between Chinese and U.S. companies.

Clinton-Jiang summit

The new trip comes as the U.S. trade deficit with China could top $40 billion.

By focusing on the economy, Mr. Brown's visit is also meant to smooth the way for the summit between President Clinton and China's president, Jiang Zemin, next week in New York.

A sticking point, however, could be the fate of Mr. Chen and other dissidents.

With China's leaders concerned primarily with stability, almost all prominent dissidents have been rounded up.

Mr. Chen was rearrested June 25 and sent to Beijing's No. 2 Prison. His wife and sister are allowed to visit him once a month.

During the United Nations' women's conference last month, his wife could see him only by joining him in prison for the duration of the conference, thus keeping her away from meeting the thousands of foreign delegates in Beijing for the conference.

During her last visit, Sept. 25, Ms. Wang said, she and Mr. Chen agreed that unless she heard from him Friday, he would begin a hunger strike.

"No other choice"

"I know Ziming very well, his personality and the way he thinks. Barring some dramatic improvement in his situation, such as release or adequate medical care, he will stop eating," Ms. Wang said.

"He has no other choice at this stage. He has been arrested illegally and deprived of his rights," she said.

Ms. Wang urged foreign leaders, such as President Clinton, to pressure China to treat her husband and his family more fairly.

When he was rearrested, more than 20 police officers stormed her apartment, she said, confiscating her computer and fax machine.

Shortly afterward, their bank accounts were frozen and the couple were left without access to their savings.

Without her computer, Ms. Wang, an accountant, now must make clothes to earn a living.

Fingering a black and white houndstooth blazer that she was wearing, she said: "I made this myself. It's all they allow me to do."

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