(Editor’s note: Updates with State Department confirmation and dates)
(CNSNews.com) – The news that Hillary Clinton’s maiden voyage abroad as secretary of state will take her to East Asia has buoyed the family of a pioneering pro-democracy activist, now serving his seventh year of a life sentence in a Chinese jail.
Advocates for Dr. Wang Bingzhang have been calling on the Obama administration to raise his case with the Chinese government, and Clinton’s forthcoming trip will now make direct intervention possible earlier than expected.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood on Thursday confirmed that Clinton would visit China during a regional trip beginning February 16 that will start in Japan and also take in South Korea and Indonesia.
“I’m happy to hear that Secretary Clinton will be visiting China soon,” Wang’s daughter, Ti-Anna Wang, said.
“I hope that she will use this early opportunity to discuss human rights issues with Chinese officials,” she said. “More specifically, I urge her to raise my father’s case in Beijing and make his release a priority for the U.S. government.”
Wang Bingzhang moved from China to North America in 1979, settling eventually in New York and becoming a founding member of the Chinese democracy movement abroad. Wang holds permanent U.S. residency and his four children are all American citizens.
His family say his campaigning came to an abrupt halt in June 2002 when, during a visit to Vietnam to meet with Chinese labor activists, he was kidnapped – allegedly by Chinese agents – and taken across the border into China.
The Chinese government maintains that police rescued Wang and two companions after finding them, bound, in a Buddhist temple in southern Guangxi province. After he was identified as a suspected offender, Beijing says, he was detained.
After being held incommunicado for six months, Wang was charged with terrorism and spying for Taiwan and after a one-day trial in January 2003 he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The United Nations investigated and later that year declared his case to be one of arbitrary detention.
According to Ti-Anna – who was named in memory of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the year of her birth – her father is allowed only one, 30-minute visit a month. Family members who travel from North America for the visit communicate with him through bars and glass panels and with guards present. Wang, who is described as a devout Christian, will turn 61 years old on Friday.
Late last month, Republican lawmakers Sen. Sam Brownback and Reps. Frank Wolf and Chris Smith in a letter to Clinton said that while in prison Wang had developed “serious medical conditions including phlebitis, severe hay fever, gastritis, varicose veins and depression.”
They urged her to raise the case “at the highest levels in the Chinese government.”
Wood said Thursday that human rights issues “could very well come up” during Clinton’s visit to China.
“The subjects of human rights and Tibet always come up in conversations with our Chinese counterparts, because human rights is a very important issue for the United States.”
Clinton’s trip will begin in Japan on February 16-18. She will visit Indonesia from February 18-19, South Korea from February 19-20, and China from February 20-22.
Officials in Seoul say her visit to South Korea will likely focus on the continuing crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
A marathon multilateral negotiations process aimed at shutting down the nuclear program stalled during the closing months of the Bush administration. The Stalinist nation has stepped up threats of war against its neighbor in recent weeks, and intelligence reports indicate possible preparations for a long-range ballistic missile test.
Wood said North Korea would feature during the visit to the region.
“We all want to see how we can get the North Koreans to abide by their international obligations and to see how, through the six-party framework, we can get them to live up to those obligations,” he said.
The parties that have been involved in negotiating with North Korea since August 2003 are the U.S., South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.