US Citizens Detained by China to Catch Family Member

Victor and Cynthia Liu. (Image:  nyt /  CC0 1.0)
Victor and Cynthia Liu. (Image: nyt / CC0 1.0)

China is detaining three U.S. citizens, one male and two females, in a bid to force an alleged criminal to surrender and face charges. The main culprit, Liu Changming, is a former executive of a state-owned bank and is wanted in China for being involved in financial fraud totaling more than a billion dollars. When Victor and Cynthia Liu, children of Liu Changming, and their mother Sandra Han arrived in China in June to visit their grandfather, they were picked up by the local authorities.

Detaining ethnic Chinese

The U.S. citizens are being detained under China’s “exit ban” policy through which Beijing empowers law enforcement authorities to arrest any individual who has Chinese heritage. In this instance, the three Americans are believed to hold both U.S. and Chinese passports, which gives the authorities the excuse to detain them. China does not recognize dual citizenship.

“As we understand it from the relevant authorities, these people you have mentioned all have legal and valid identity documents as Chinese citizens… They are suspected of having committed economic crimes and have been restricted from leaving China by Chinese police,” Geng Shuang, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement (Irish Times).

According to reports, the children had already cut off ties with their father since 2012. While Victor Liu, aged 19, was supposed to resume education at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Cynthia Liu, 27, was expected to begin work at McKinsey & Company in New York. With both of them in Chinese custody, their life plans are now on hold.

According to experts, Chinese President Xi Jinping is very adamant about bringing Taiwan under Chinese control during his lifetime. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has given the go-ahead to detain U.S. citizens under China’s ‘exit ban’ policy. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Exit ban

The U.S. State Department has already issued a travel advisory to people who wish to visit China. “Exit bans have been imposed to compel U.S. citizens to resolve business disputes, force settlement of court orders, or facilitate government investigations. Individuals not involved in legal proceedings or suspected of wrongdoing have also been subjected to lengthy exit bans in order to compel their family members or colleagues to cooperate with Chinese courts or investigators,” said the notice.

The detainment is another sore point between the U.S. and China, both of whom are engaged in a trade war with each other. Though U.S. government has asked Beijing to reevaluate their exit ban policy and stop detaining ethnic Chinese with foreign passports, China has discounted such demands.

One of the biggest issues with the exit ban is that travelers will never know whether they come under the purview of the ban until they actually step into China. “Some people can buy a ticket with their passport, but when they arrive at the airport and try to pass immigration, they aren’t allowed to,” Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based researcher for human rights group Amnesty International, said to The Telegraph.

One of the most famous cases in recent times of detainment of an ethnic Chinese living in a foreign country is that of the ex-Interpol chief Meng Hongwei. Though he lived in France, Hongwei was arrested as soon as he landed in China on account of corruption charges. His whereabouts are still unknown.

Meng Hongwei, ex-Interpol Chief. (Image: websummit via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

Beijing has become so emboldened by its growing international clout that it has even been kidnapping foreign nationals living in other countries in the past few years. An example would be that of Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, who was picked up by the Chinese agents from Thailand in 2015. He still remains in Chinese custody.

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