WASHINGTON, Dec. 26--China�s most famous dissident, Xu Wenli, now believes economic development should be Beijing's top priority. In an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA) two days after he was freed on medical parole and sent into U.S. exile, Xu also said he hopes to meet soon with fellow democracy activists "who have promoted democracy and human rights outside China for so long."
"The problems that plague China are not just political," Xu said, speaking to RFA�s Mandarin service in New York. "On a political level, what I have tried to accomplish is the end of one-party rule by the Chinese Communist Party. External forces may advance this, but it could also happen as a result of the party's self-awareness. Or it could result from a combination of the two factors."
"As far as China is concerned, I second what [China�s late paramount leader] Deng Xiaoping once proposed--that economic development should be of paramount importance," Xu said.
A seminal leader of the modern dissident movement in China, Xu spent more than 16 of the last 21 years in prison for advocating democratic reform. The United States and its allies have pressured the Chinese government to free him for years. Xu helped lead the Democracy Wall movement for greater political rights in the late 1970s after the death of Mao Zedong. He was first jailed in 1979, then again from 1982-93 on charges of counterrevolution.
He was jailed in 1998 for trying to establish the China Democracy Party and sentenced to 13 years. His release followed a new effort by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Lorne Craner, who visited China last week. Xu agreed to go into exile reluctantly, after his health began to deteriorate seriously in prison.
Asked about his longer-term plans, Xu replied: "I haven't given it much thought... First of all, I want to learn. I spent a total of 16 years in prison. I read a little--books and newspapers. I learned about the outside world from television. But I have had no personal experience and understanding of Western society. I want to meet with those who have promoted democracy and human rights outside China for so long. I want to listen to what they have to say."
Prison officials didn�t subject him to outright abuse, he said, although his cellmates made life unpleasant. "The first time I was jailed I was alone in my cell. This time there were three others in my cell. They had� bad habits. And they tried to impress prison officials... There was great mental harassment."
But medical care in prison was poor, and Xu was diagnosed in May 1999 with Hepatitis B. Treatment was "proper and timely," he said, "but virtually ineffectual."
Xu said his top priority in the short term was to spend time with the wife and daughter he has barely seen in recent years. "I feel deeply indebted to my wife and my daughter, especially my daughter. I haven't been able to fulfill the basic responsibilities of a father since she was nine years old," he said.
"I attach great importance to my family. But it conflicts with my devotion to the cause of democracy. So they had to make sacrifices. Now that I am a free man, I want first and foremost to spend some time with my wife and child."
"Secondly, I want to go and pay respects to the innocent victims from so many countries who died on Sept. 11. Regrettably, in my native China, where the June 4, 1989 massacre occurred, there is no place where we can go to pay our respects to those innocent victims," he added.
U.S. human rights activists say he is the first person convicted of endangering state security to be released early from prison. China has freed a number of high-profile dissidents on medical parole in recent years, on condition that they leave the country.
RFA broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.