BEIJING — Bristling over American concern for pro-democracy activists, Beijing officials yesterday sought to arrest a leading dissident who has taken refuge at the United States Embassy. The effort to seize liberal activist Fang Lizhi is part of a nationwide crackdown on a movement seeking basic liberties in China. Official reports say more than 600 student and worker demonstrators have been arrested. Diplomats and Chinese sources say the figure is far higher.
China's indignation over the granting of refuge for Dr. Fang by the US Embassy appears to exemplify a recurrent dispute between the two countries over human rights. Since Sino-US relations were normalized a decade ago, US officials have criticized Beijing on issues ranging from its draconian efforts at population control to suppression of the Tibetan independence movement.
In response, Beijing has accused Washington of meddling in its internal affairs.
Fearing for their lives, astrophysicist Fang and his wife, Li Shuxian, found sanctuary at the embassy early last week as China's Army gunned down several hundred unarmed demonstrators staging a sit-in at Tiananmen Square. (US intelligence estimates place the number of citizens slain at 3,000.)
Beijing has accused Fang and Dr. Li, an associate professor of physics at Beijing University, of masterminding the seven-week-long liberal movement, or ``commiting crimes of counterrevolutionary propaganda and instigation.'' Embassy officials yesterday declined to comment on the case.
Fang has frequently criticized Marxism and China's leadership, provoking the anger of senior leader Deng Xiaoping. He was expelled from the Communist Party in 1987 for allegedly inciting nationwide student protests for democracy. On a trip to Hong Kong and Australia last year, Fang reportedly enraged Mr. Deng by saying that many members of China's leadership and their children hold sizable bank accounts overseas. Most recently, police prevented Fang from attending a banquet hosted by President Bush in March.