Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) has presented Chinese officials with 22 separate requests from U.S. residents seekinng permission for relatives to leave China, providing a first test of Peking's promise last week to relax its overseas travel restrictions.
Kennedy, who arrived here today after a two-week tour of the People's Republic, said the Chinese gave no indication of what they would do about the 22 requests, gathered from Chinese Americans living in Massachusetts and some other states. Chinese officials did some other states. Chinese officials did allow kennedy to visit a Shanghai resident, Johnny Fu, 47, whose request for Chinese government permission to join his ailing father in Massachusetts has been pending for four years, Kennedy said.
Asked about his feelings on human rights in China, Kennedy told reporters at a press conference here: "I believe that the most important proposal in this area is reunification of famulies." He said Chinese concessions in such humanitarian areas would improve prospects for normalization of relations wtih Washington, which Kennedy actively supports.
Kennedy stopped for only six hours here before flying to Japan, but he attracted more than 100 local and foreign journalists to an airport news conference. Looking on were his children Kara, 17, and Edward Jr., 16; his niece Caroline, John F. Kennedy's daughter, 19, and his nephew Michael, Robert F. Kennedy's son, 19, all of whom accompanied the senator on the China trip.
Kennedy told the Hong Kong reporters he had floor managed one immigration bill that reunited nearly 100,000 people from Hong Kong with families in the United States and he said he hoped his efforts would help the unknown numbers of Chinese residents seeking to join American relatives. He said he brought up the family reunification issue with all the top Chinese officials he saw, including Vice Premier Teng Hsiaoping and Foreign Minister Huang Hua, but added, "I don't make any prediction as the what the results are going to be."
Liao Cheng-chih, a Communist Party Central Committee member responsible for overseas Chinese affairs, said in an article published Jan. 4 that "we should provide facilities . . . reunion with their relatives." It was apparently the first time Peking had ever expressed a desire to relax, its strict policy against such travel, but many ethnic Chinese living.
Kennedy said he was told by the Chinese that they had recently announced a relaxation of their policy, but that he did not hear of Liao's article until after he had left Peking. He said he did not know how many Chinese residents were allowed to leave China because of a need for kidney transplants.
Chinese officials, who obviously approve of Kennedy's outspoken support for normalization of relations between Peking and Washington, gave him unusual opportunities to talk with ordinary Chinese.
He visited a prison in Shanghai, although he declined to speculate if the well-fed prisoners he met were representative of those in other Chinese jails.
On a visit to a teachers' college in Human, he conducted an informal poll of current attitudes of Chinese youth, asking a large group of students to vote for the areas they thought China most needed to develop. The score: agriculture, 49; education, 48; industry, 47; military, 73 health, housing.
When he asked the students what they thought the United States most needed to develop, the result was, housing, 37; military, 35; industry, 30; health, 20; education, 10; agriculture, 4. It was a rough survey, but one that U.S. sociologists, who have been totally barred from conducting studies in China, would envy.
Also joining Kennedy on the China trip were his wife, Joan, his younger son Patrick, 10, his sisters Eunice Shriver, Patricia Lawford and Jean Smith, his brother-in-law Stephen Smith, two aides, two from the competing Boston dailies, the Globe and the Herald, and Jerome Cohen, Harvard Law School professor and China specialist.
The Kennedy clan found themselves somewhat slowed by colds and other illnesses during the trip. Caroline and Michael Kennedy, both sophomores at Harvard, spent some time studying for final exams and taking notes for terms papers thay plan to write based on the trip.
Michael Kennedy said his paper was for a course on population, "but I don't know if the Chinese even know how many people they really have," he said.