WASHINGTON - Economist Mao Yushi is on a plane for Washington, D.C., after a tense several days during which his detention by Chinese authorities seemed imminent.
Mao is slated to receive the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty, awarded biennially by the Cato Institute, Friday at a black-tie dinner keynoted by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.
"We're relieved that the Chinese government has kept its word," said Cato founder and president Edward H. Crane. "Given the current political environment in China, we were preparing an alternative program in case the event had to go forward without our honoree."
A particularly ominous sign for Mao's travel clearance came Saturday, when the web site for the free-market think tank he helped found, Unirule.org.cn, crashed amid a Chinese government crackdown on pro-democracy web communications. It could not immediately be confirmed that the shutdown - said to be due to a technical glitch - was engineered by authorities. But "[t]hat's typical in China," Mao told the Associated Press in Beijing.
Mao is no stranger to harsh treatment at the hands of his own government. Formerly an engineer, Mao became an outspoken critic of China's centrally planned economy and human rights abuses after his family's property was seized by the state during the Cultural Revolution. During his lifetime he has faced exile, corporal punishment, and the forced near-starvation of his family because of his views. In 2011 he angered some in China with his article "Returning Mao Zedong to Human Form," which boldly calculated the human cost of Mao's brutal Communist policies from 1949 to 1976. The article led to calls for his prosecution and execution, with 50,000 leftists signing a petition that called for his imprisonment on charges of treason. Immediately following the article's appearance, he had to be surrounded by students to protect him from physical attack from statist hardliners. The government did nothing to intervene. (More on Mao here.)
Mao cleared customs in Beijing just after 7 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time, and is expected to arrive in the Washington area at 8 p.m. local time. He will have two days of media availability before delivering a speech and accepting the Friedman Prize at the dinner at the Washington Hilton Friday night. (More on the Friedman Prize here.)
To arrange media availability for Mao or to obtain credentials for the Friedman Prize dinner, contact Cato Media Relations at email@example.com or 202-789-5200.
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