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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wu Arrives in U.S., Greeted as Hero

SAN FRANCISCO -- After risking imprisonment to expose human rights abuses in his native China, Harry Wu has returned home to a hero's welcome and praise from supporters of his campaign.

"All the papers should have a headline saying, 'Thank you, China. By freeing Harry, you proved he was right,'" said Wu's friend Ignatius Ding.

Wu, who spent 19 years in Chinese labor camps before emigrating to the United States and gaining citizenship, was detained in China two months ago. He was expelled Thursday after being convicted of spying and sentenced to a 15-year prison term.

The release opened the way for an announcement by first lady Hillary Clinton that she will attend the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in September.

Hillary Clinton had publicly said that she wanted to attend the meeting, which runs from Sept. 4 to 14. But Wu's detention, which came amid severe strains in U.S.-Chinese relations, had appeared to block the visit.

"We would not have gone ... if Mr Wu was still being held," one administration official said.

The first lady will only attend the conference and related activities and will have no official contact with Chinese authorities. Her presence is likely to heighten interest in the two-week conference, expected to draw 40,000 people from all over the world.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, said in an interview with NBC television earlier Friday that there was no deal between the two countries linking the release of Wu with the visit of the president's wife.

Wu, 58, told reporters outside his home that a Chinese citizen would not have been freed from imprisonment so quickly.

"Chinese police told me that 'You are lucky because you are an American,'" he said. "I'm so proud I'm an American citizen."

"I think they can only destroy man but I don't think they can defeat them," he said in his heavy Chinese accent. "I quite remember what Ernest Hemingway said -- that man is made not for defeat.''

Supporters said Wu's ordeal could focus world attention on China's poor human-rights record.

Dozens of them, many carrying "Welcome Home" signs and yellow roses, crowded around Wu's wife, Ching-Lee, as she waited to greet her husband at San Francisco International Airport.

But they did not get to see Wu because his wife met him on the runway and they immediately left for their home in Milpitas, 65 kilometers southeast of San Francisco.

Wu, born Wu Hongda, was a student when he was imprisoned in labor camps as a counterrevolutionary several years after denouncing the Soviet Union's 1956 invasion of Hungary.

In the camps, Wu's arm was broken in a beating to punish him for hiding Western books, his back was broken by runaway carts in a coal mine and he weighed an emaciated 36 kilograms.

He came to the United States in 1985 and began his secret trips to China in 1991 to research, document and film abuses in the "reform-through-labor," or laogai, system.

His television documentaries, showing use of prison labor to manufacture exports and the transplanting of organs from executed prisoners, earned him international attention.

Wu was taken into custody June 19 as he attempted to enter China at a remote border crossing with Kazakhstan. His trial was not open to foreign news reporters.

Wu underwent a quick medical exam before leaving the airport.

Ching-Lee Wu said she and his friends were certain Wu would continue to fight for human rights.

"Harry will keep on doing what is good -- what he thinks he should do," she said.

Ties between China and the United States faltered after China's military crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989.

In May, relations deteriorated when the White House granted permission to the president of Taiwan, the island China regards as a renegade province, to attend a university reunion in the United States.