Jiang Yanyong, the 72-year-old Beijing doctor now in government custody, does not fit the dissident profile. The Communist Party member and People's Liberation Army soldier is better known for his whistle blowing during last spring's Sars crisis. By calling attention to the true number of cases - in the capital alone, more than 10 times the officially admitted 37 - Dr Jiang became a hero and was credited with saving countless lives. Considering Dr Jiang's stature, his detention since the beginning of June and the continued official silence about his status are sure to draw international protest. And while there is no argument for Beijing to keep him in custody, there will be much to lose in terms of international standing, especially at a time when China's rapid modernisation is raising its profile around the world. Very likely, Dr Jiang's detention has to do with an open letter, leaked to the international press in the months ahead of the June 4 anniversary, in which he asked for a reversal of the verdict that the spring 1989 protests were a counter-revolutionary movement. That the Sars doctor signed the plea with his full name, title and address is evidence that he had little to hide about his identity or intentions, and that he was not seeking to question government authority. In fact, Dr Jiang argued that taking another look at the events would enhance the party's standing among the Chinese public. Whatever internal politics surround discussions about the spring of 1989 and decisions that were made about the protest in Tiananmen Square, it is certain that the matter is debated privately among citizens and government officials. The move to detain, and possibly charge, Dr Jiang for bringing the debate into the public realm can only invite the wrong kind of attention and cast Beijing in an unflattering light. Over the past year, China's international diplomacy has been marked by rising self-confidence and constructive activity, bolstered by an economy that has become a driver of growth elsewhere in the world and a record of bringing millions out of poverty through market-oriented reforms. On the political front, there are moves towards greater official accountability and administrative reforms at the village and township level, while the suspended sentence for internet essayist Du Daobin announced earlier this month has raised hopes that more openness in public discourse is increasingly possible on the mainland. In light of all this, anything that could be perceived as disproportionately harsh treatment towards Dr Jiang is likely to strike a discordant note. His wife, Hua Zhongwei, detained along with him, has been allowed to go home. Releasing Dr Jiang would underscore how far Beijing and the party have really come since 1989.