CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND, JULY 13 -- Exiled Chinese astrophysicist Fang Lizhi plans to come to the United States in January to study and intends to adopt a high political profile by meeting other dissidents and speaking out against human-rights abuses in China, he said in an interview today.
Fang, who arrived in England on June 25 after seeking refuge for a year in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, credited Western economic sanctions on China for his release, and said President Bush should continue such measures to try to win improvements in human rights in China and help secure the release of imprisoned dissidents.
"The urgent thing is to demand Chinese authorities release people involved in Tiananmen," a reference to last year's democracy movement in China that was headquartered in Beijing's Tiananmen Square but crushed by the army after seven weeks of demonstrations.
"We have named several hundred in prison," Fang said, adding that there are probably about a thousand dissidents in jail in China now. "Right now, very few student leaders have been released. Only two or so. We can ask Bush to mention names to be released."
A high-profile campaign in the United States by Fang, long China's best-known dissident, could strain relations between Beijing and Washington and prove embarrassing to the U.S. administration, which imposed sanctions against China to protest last year's crackdown but has attempted to maintain a dialogue with the Chinese leadership.
Bush has come under criticism at home and abroad for his policy toward China in which he sent secret emissaries to Beijing and recently decided to renew China's most-favored-nation trading status. An active campaign by Chinese dissidents in the United States could be seen with disfavor by Beijing.
Bush has proved sensitive about criticism of his policy, even from Fang, who has said repeatedly that the United States has a double standard on human rights and has been easier on China than other countries. Bush said flatly last week that Fang was wrong and added, "He's got a little time warp here."
In his interview today, Fang said that outside pressure does affect the Chinese leadership. While he said the army massacre of hundreds of protesters in June 1989 could probably not have been prevented, a stronger international response could have reduced the repression in the weeks that followed.
Fang, who has been a critic of the Communist government since his student days, rose to prominence in China for his demands for a multi-party democracy and his attacks on corruption among the leadership. His frank speeches contributed to student unrest in 1986-87, and while he remained aloof from last year's democracy movement, his philosophy was a strong influence on the students. In the process, Fang became probably the dissident most hated by the Chinese leadership.
Fang did not go straight to the United States after his release, he said, because the Chinese told him not to make it his first stop. "They wanted me to go first to a small, isolated island, like Elba, for my exile," he said with a laugh. "England is an island, I told them."
Now doing research at Cambridge on the large-scale structure of the universe, Fang has accepted an invitation from the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University for six months of study and said he may make the United States his home afterward. When he moves, Fang said, he would like to meet with Bush and discuss politics.
Fang did not detail how he would become politically active but said he would meet with other dissidents and did not rule out the possibility that he may lead the disparate elements of the Chinese democracy movement while in exile.
Cheerful and relaxed at the Cambridge University observatory, located in a pastoral setting typical of the English countryside, Fang said he had no clear idea what the next step for the Chinese democracy movement will be. "We can have demonstrations outside but how to link with the movement inside? That is what I have to think about."
The 54-year-old Fang, who speaks English, has not lost hope of returning to China. He is not seeking political asylum and is keeping his Chinese passport. He will return, he said, when free speech is guaranteed.
He predicted change will come to China when the aging leadership passes from the scene. He did not know who might emerge as a kind of Chinese Mikhail Gorbachev ready to embark on political reform, but noted that the Communist Party chief deposed last year, Zhao Ziyang, was in good health.
Conceding that the Chinese dissident movement was well behind those that had existed in Eastern Europe before last year's revolutions, Fang said, "I think I am optimistic. If you look at the problem historically, the main trend is going toward democracy."
Although Fang said he did not play a big role in last year's movement, he was still considered suspect by the government and accused of trying to overthrow the leadership. The day after the army crackdown, Fang said: "I got lots of calls from student friends, all telling me I was in danger. Friends came to the house and said I was in danger, and finally I agreed."
He and his wife, Lu Shuxian, fled to the U.S. Embassy, where the first few weeks were very tense. "We were afraid the Chinese might come into the embassy to take me."
Fang and his wife were kept away from the Chinese members of the embassy staff, seeing about 10 of the U.S. officials and two nurses. Fang used the time to continue his research, while his wife, a physicist, taught the nurses how to cook Chinese food.
On his release, Fang said the Chinese government asked him to sign papers admitting he was a criminal and guaranteeing that he would not take part in anti-Beijing activities. He refused, but agreed to sign a document saying he was going to seek medical treatment, even though nothing was wrong with him.
When Fang and his wife went to Cambridge, they were joined by their son Fang Ke, 27, who has been studying in the United States -- but their other son, Fang Zhe, 22, was not allowed to leave China with them. When his younger son failed to arrive here early last week, Fang became worried. When his son did turn up last Friday, Fang felt free to speak his mind. "I have never been anti-China, just anti some governments," he declared.