China angrily denounced the Reagan administration today for granting political asylum to Chinese tennis star Hu Na, charging that she had been coerced to defect by the "collusion" of Americans and Taiwan agents.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qi Huaiyuan said the incident was "long premeditated and deliberately created" by Washington. He warned that it was "bound to impair" sports and cultural exchanges and "adversely affect" overall bilateral relations.
"The Chinese government will react to this matter," Qi said, apparently referring to earlier threats to cut back cultural ties if Hu was given political refuge.
Hu, 19, China's top female tennis player, was granted asylum yesterday, eight months after she left her team at the 32-nation Federation Cup in California. Hu sought refuge on grounds that she faced persecution in China for her repeated refusals to join the Communist Party.
Although dozens of Chinese have sought political asylum since Peking loosened controls on foreign travel in 1979, the defection of so celebrated an athlete as Hu became a political embarrassment for the ruling hierarchy here and a sore point in Sino-American relations.
The issue took on added political significance when Hu retained San Francisco lawyer Edward Lau, a Chinese-American reportedly with close ties to the Nationalist Chinese government on Taiwan headed by President Chiang Ching-kuo.
Lau denied in a telephone interview that he has ties to the Taiwanese government and said he is American-born, married to a Taiwanese and has relatives in China.
"The so-called request of Hu Na to the U.S. authorities for political asylum is entirely the result of the enticement and coercion by a handful of Americans and the Chiang elements of Taiwan working in collusion," said Qi without naming the Americans.
Qi said Washington had "no ground whatsoever" for granting the asylum, repeating Peking's assurances that Hu would not be persecuted if she returned home.
The U.S. Embassy in Peking had no comment.
Western diplomats, however, said the incident is a sign of the new confrontational quality to Sino-American relations after months of wrangling over U.S. arm sales to the rival Chinese government on Taiwan and a battery of commercial issues.
"The United States has never had a real clash of social systems with China like it does with the Soviets," said an envoy, trying to explain why Washington waited eight months to accept Hu when it quickly admits Soviet Bloc sports and cultural defectors.
Diplomats expect Peking to strike back with reprisals, but it is unclear what measures it could take that would sting the United States without compromising Chinese interests.
In the student-exchange program, for example, China is educating a new elite at the best American schools at relatively low cost. Thousands of scholars are receiving top technical training needed for their nation's modernization. At the same time, they open links to the influential Chinese-American community, helping to shift sentiment to the mainland in its quarrel with Taiwan.
Peking is said to fear that the Hu defection will set a precedent for the 10,000 Chinese students now attending U.S. schools.
Only a few hundred Americans study in China every year, and Peking has drastically restricted field research by foreign social scientists here.
If they mete out cultural reprisals, Chinese leaders could delay renewal of the two-year governmental agreement on exchanges that expires in September, according to diplomats.
Or, they could halt the private and official performances and exhibitions now moving back and forth across the Pacific at the rate of one a month.
Chinese officials have hinted in private that they may stop Chinese performers and athletes from visiting the United States without a U.S. guarantee that everyone who goes will come back.
But diplomats say any Chinese decision to interrupt the exchanges will have little more than symbolic impact on the United States. U.S. diplomats fear Peking's anger over Hu's defection will further strain bilateral relations at a time of growing Sino-Soviet cultural contacts and trade.
The Hu episode poses a sticky political problem for Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who emphasized the open door policy as the cornerstone of his administration. Deng, who studied in Paris as a young man, has encouraged Chinese youth to train abroad, confidently telling U.S. officials in 1979, "you can have 10 million if you wish."