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Release of Scholar Seen to Help US-China Ties

Washington's ambassador to China says the recent release of a detained Tibetan scholar helps Sino-American relations as President Bush gets ready to visit China next month. The envoy says the two sides still disagree on human rights, but find common interest in the fight against terrorism. The relationship may hit some turbulence following reports that a U.S.-built plane bought for China's President was loaded with spying devices.

U.S. Ambassador Clark Randt tells an audience in Hong Kong the release of Ngawang Choephel, an expert in Tibetan music, is "very welcome."

China recently released the ethno-musicologist for health reasons after he had served one-third of an 18-year sentence. He was imprisoned after Chinese officials charged him with spying.

The ambassador says the scholar is now in Washington undergoing treatment. Mr. Randt says China would be a "greater and more respected nation" if its leaders were more tolerant of different religious and political ideas. "I earnestly hope that, before the president [Bush] visits Beijing in late February, I shall be able to report additional releases by China on humanitarian and medical grounds," he said.

Ambassador Randt says President Bush is very concerned about the case of a Hong Kong man who is awaiting trial on charges of smuggling bibles into China. Mr. Randt says human rights abuses are still "all too common" in China, including the detention of an elderly Tibetan monk and the 1998 imprisonment of a democracy activist. The ambassador says the two sides may resolve some differences in a human rights dialogue that resumed last October. But other issues may complicate the relationship. News reports say dozens of listening devices were found inside the Boeing 767 jet that China bought for President Jiang Zemin to use.

Ambassador Randt had nothing to say about that matter, which is said to have angered President Jiang. "As you know, we do not comment on allegations of this sort, but I can say that at the embassy, neither officially nor unofficially, have we had any communications from the Chinese government in that regard," said Clark Randt.

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters he did not think the disclosure would wreck President Bush's planned visit to China next month.

The lack of reaction, so far, from China is a sharp contrast to the angry rhetoric that followed last year's collision of Chinese and U.S. military planes.

Analysts speculate the silence shows that Beijing will continue working to improve relations with Washington, and will not let this issue slow that effort.