As the United States expressed concern over the plight of the 16-year-old son of a detained Chinese rights lawyer and her legal rights activist husband, the country's tightly controlled state media said that members of a banned opposition party in exile 'conspired' to smuggle the boy illegally into Myanmar, where he was detained earlier this month.
The Global Times newspaper, an official organ of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said Bao Zhuoxuan, also known by his nickname Bao Mengmeng, was taken illegally across the border to northern Myanmar in an operation organized by the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) in the U.S.
"This newspaper has learned that the Chinese police acted on a tip-off," the paper reported in Chinese on Thursday.
"Anti-Chinese forces based in the United States, namely the ... China Democracy Party, with [exiled dissidents and CDP founders] Wang Min and Xu Wenli and others as the backbone, conspired to help Bao Zhuoxuan exit China illegally," it quoted police sources as saying.
"Wang, Xu and the others got in touch with their contacts in the U.S., Australia and Thailand to carry out this operation," the report said.
Bao Zhuoxuan, the son of detained rights lawyer Wang Yu and legal rights activist Bao Longjun, had crossed the border from the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan into northern Myanmar as a tourist in early October, accompanied by fellow activists Tang Zhishun and Xing Qingxian.
Bao, who is also known by his nickname Bao Mengmeng, was taken away from the Huadu Guesthouse in the border town of Mongla by local police on Oct. 6.
He had earlier been denied permission to leave China legally after police confiscated his passport following his parents' detention.
Tang and Xing were detained at the same time as Bao by police who showed Burmese IDs, in an arrest that was coordinated with police in mainland China, sources told RFA.
Bao is now being held under house arrest, with no means of contact with the outside world, at his grandparents' home in the northern region of Inner Mongolia, Wang and Bao's lawyers and friends have said.
U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby called on China to allow Bao to leave the country normally, to pursue his education.
"The United States is concerned about media reports that Bao Zhuoxuan, the son of detained rights lawyer Wang Yu and her detained husband Bao Longjun, is being held under house arrest in Inner Mongolia, China," Kirby told a regular news briefing in Washington on Wednesday.
"If Bao Zhuoxuan’s family wishes him to study abroad like hundreds of thousands of other Chinese students, China should permit him to leave the country," he said.
"We call on China to remove restrictions on Bao Zhuoxuan’s freedom of movement, and again urge China to release Wang Yu and Bao Longjun without condition," Kirby said.
Campaign against families
He hit out at a "seemingly systematic campaign" by China to target family members of Chinese rights defenders.
Bao was initially held at an unknown location following the detention of his parents, at the start of a nationwide police operation that has detained or questioned at least 293 rights lawyers and their associates since the night of July 9-10, the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group reported on its website.
Bao, who had planned to attend college in Australia, was later told he couldn't leave China because his departure would "harm state security," and police confiscated his passport.
U.S.-based veteran democracy activist Zhou Fengsuo, who helped coordinate Bao's attempted escape, said China's state-controlled media had no right to speak on Bao's behalf.
"This is very underhand; how can a regime like that have any right to speak on behalf of this child?" Zhou said.
"The root of the problem is that Wang Yu was locked up for no reason, and to this day even her lawyer hasn't seen her," he said.
Anhui-based rights activist Shen Liangqing said the Global Times report may have the opposite effect to the one it intended, however.
"It doesn't always matter what their take on it is; the important thing is that they have now revealed some of the details of this incident," Shen said, adding that the report is likely factually
"The Chinese Communist Party has very good intelligence, especially in southeastern Asian countries including Thailand, Myanmar, and those chaotic [border] regions," he said.
Chinese warlord help
Mongla, where Bao, Tang and Xing were detained, is in a military zone controlled by former Chinese citizen Lin Xianming and his son Lin Daode of the 815 Army.
China's currency, the yuan, circulates freely there, and there are close economic ties and frequent cross-border cooperation between its police force and its counterparts in rebel-held border regions.
The current Myanmar government has never been in full administrative control of Mongla, local residents told RFA, adding that Chinese police have working agreements in place with many of the ethnic rebel forces along the mountainous border with Yunnan province.
Mongla police destroyed case files and surveillance footage showing Bao and the others after handing the trio over to Inner Mongolian and Xishuangbanna police at the border, sources told RFA on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the families of Tang Zhishun and Xing Qingxian have arrived in the United States after hearing about their detention.
Tang's wife Gao Shen said she has no way of getting news of her husband, as he has been held at an unknown location since Oct. 6 and his home searched by police. She said her friends and family are all likely under close surveillance, too.
"I don't think they're safe because they are all under surveillance, their phones, everything," Gao said.
"I have no computer and I have borrowed a phone [to avoid using] my old phone from back home," she said.
Xing's wife He Juan, who like Gao is in the U.S. on a tourist visa, said she has had no news of her husband either.
"The police station just said 'don't know.' They won't give me the time of day," she said.
Chinese political activists first tried to set up the CDP by applying for an official permit from the Hangzhou civil affairs bureau in December 1998, but the attempt ended with the sentencing of three of the group's founders to lengthy jail terms.
Zhejiang dissident Wang Youcai, Wuhan-based Qin Yongmin, and Beijing-based Xu Wenli were sentenced, respectively, to 11, 12, and 13 years in prison on charges of "instigation to subvert state power."
Xu Wenli and Wang Youcai were exiled to the United States, released from prison on "medical parole" on Dec. 24, 2002, and March 4, 2004, respectively.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ka Pa and Zhou Zinan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.