The Chinese government has reacted strongly against Washington's granting of political asylum to the tennis player Hu Na. ''The United States government has no grounds whatsoever to grant political asylum to Hu Na,'' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qi Huaiyuan April 5. The action, he continued, was ''bound to impair Sino-American cultural and sports exchanges and even adversely affect relations between the two countries.''
Hu Na's request was greeted with anger by the Chinese government, which said she had been ''enticed'' and ''coerced'' by a ''handful of Americans'' acting in collusion with ''Taiwan elements.'' Hu Na is from Sichuan, home province of senior leader Deng Xiaoping. Mr. Deng is said to have taken the matter up personally with several prominent US visitors, including Secretary of State George Shultz.
The Chinese say that Hu Na was brought up under the ''care and assistance'' of Chinese sports authorities. It was noted that she had participated in tennis tournaments abroad, and that even now, if she were to come home, she would be allowed to take part in a tournament in Switzerland in June. Therefore, they say , there is no question of political persecution such as would justify a request for asylum.
A long dispute between American officials is believed to have been the principal reason for the eight-month delay in getting her request cleared. On the one hand, the Reagan administration has been tightening up the guidelines for granting political asylum, while on the other, officials concerned about relations with China pointed out that grounds other than asylum could be found to enable Hu Na to remain in the United States.
What will happen now? Estimates of the number of Chinese students in the United States vary widely, from 6,000 to 10,000 or more. Chinese authorities have not specified what measures they may take to restrict cultural and sports exchanges with the US - whether, for instance, they will try to bring home students already in the US.
Any restrictive action would undoubtedly hurt China far more than the United States. Most Chinese students in the US are in fields such as science and technology, which will prove directly useful to China's ambitious modernization program.
American students and researchers in China are mostly in literature or the social sciences. Many have complained of being restricted in their research. Their further restriction would be a blow to building better relations between the US and China, but it would not have direct impact on programs of national importance such as the withdrawal of Chinese students from the United States would have.
Western diplomats here, meanwhile, say the US Immigration and Naturalization Service figure of 1,030 Chinese who have applied for political asylum in the US is extremely misleading. These sources say they know of only a handful of Chinese from the mainland who have applied for political asylum in the US. This is a matter the immigration service could easily clear up if it would give a detailed breakdown of the figures, since it is obviously misleading and unfair to lump mainland China together with Taiwan.