Experts believe move will improve ties The Chinese authorities' decision to abandon the prosecution of New York Times researcher Zhao Yan and release him is being viewed as a goodwill gesture ahead of President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States next month. Ong Yew-kim, a research fellow at Chinese University's Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, said it would improve Sino-US relations. 'It's a Chinese working for The New York Times. If President Hu goes to the US with this news, the US leader is going to praise him, saying that the case has been handled fairly,' Mr Ong said. 'But even if they don't release him, Sino-US relations are not going to worsen simply because of [detaining] one person.' David Zweig, director of the Centre on China's Transitional Relations at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said the move was part and parcel of the dynamics of Sino-American relations. 'The Americans like to see people get out, and China gives them the people,' he said. 'It won't help China's image or make it easier for [US President George W.] Bush to push for progress on human rights.' The only beneficiaries were the person who was released and his family, he said. Amnesty International's East Asia Team researcher Mark Allison said the dropping of the case against Zhao, who was accused of leaking state secrets and fraud, did not mean the mainland's political environment was getting any freer. 'There is a pattern of releasing political prisoners for political advantage before important state visits and UN meetings,' he said. 'You can't look at one single case for conclusion when the general pattern is crackdown and repression.' Zhang Yaojie , a Beijing-based sociologist and Zhao's friend, said the government had been in a difficult position with the continued detention of the researcher. 'There were no charges it could use to jail him. He was detained for almost two years. There was no other way but to release him to reduce the pressure,' he said. While saying the move was linked to President Hu's visit to the US, Mr Zhang said it did not mean the government would relax its controls on dissidents and media. 'The government will give a fake smile to outsiders, while at home it closes the door and beats the dogs in whatever way it likes,' he said.