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US Concerned by Charges Against Hong Kong Journalist

The United States Monday expressed concern about spy charges filed by China against a prominent Hong Kong journalist. The journalist, for the Straits Times newspaper of Singapore, is accused of spying for Taiwan.

The State Department is voicing concern about the arrest of the journalist and its implications for press freedom in Hong Kong, and says it has raised the matter directly with the Chinese government.

Hong Kong journalist, Ching Cheong, the lead China correspondent for the Straits Times, was detained in southern China in late April and formally charged with spying for Taiwan last Friday.

The 55-year-old Mr. Ching is considered one of the most knowledgeable reporters covering China, and is the first journalist from Hong Kong to be accused of espionage since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

At a news briefing here, Deputy State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States is following the case against Mr. Ching closely and has discussed it with Chinese authorities:

"Freedom of the press is a fundamental and internationally recognized right. We view any attempt to restrict this right with great concern," Mr. Ereli says. "We have spoken to the Chinese of our concerns about the treatment of journalists in general and the important roles they play in providing information to the public. We have also raised Mr. Ching's case and we intend to seek additional information from China."

Mr. Ching, who like many Hong Kong residents holds a British National Overseas passport, has been held incommunicado since his arrest.

His wife and editors say he was arrested while trying to obtain a manuscript from an author who had secretly interviewed Zhao Ziyang, the former Chinese communist leader purged for opposing the 1989 military crackdown on student protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Zhao Ziyang died in January of this year, with observances of his death tightly controlled by Chinese authorities.

The official Chinese news agency said Mr. Ching was accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for gathering economic, political and military information for Taiwan, some of it in classified documents.

A spokeswoman for the Straits Times in Singapore said Mr. Ching was an outstanding journalist, and that the company had no inkling or suggestion he could have been involved in spying.

She said neither the Straits Times nor lawyers it has hired to defend him have been allowed to contact him since his arrest.

A Chinese researcher for the New York Times bureau in Beijing, Zhao Yan, has been detained since last September on suspicion of passing state secrets. Formal charges have not been filed in that case, which has also drawn an expression of U.S. concern.