After four years as a pawn in the US-China game, Seattle man is home – The New Indian Express

Through Associated Press

BRUSSELS: Daniel Hsu, a US citizen, fought for four years to escape from China.

The Seattle resident was not allowed to leave despite committing no crime. Earlier this month, just four days before a virtual meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Hsu was told to prepare to go home. He had less than 48 hours.

“It was a total rush,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his home in Seattle.

Hsu knew nothing about the horse-trading between China and the US ahead of the more than three-hour video meeting between Biden and Xi on Nov. 15. relationship, and Hsu had become a medium of exchange. He could return to Seattle and seven Chinese citizens convicted of crimes in the US would be returned to China.

China’s ability to make deals by effectively holding people like Hsu hostage has raised concerns that Beijing may feel encouraged to double down on the practice.

“There is no deterrent to Beijing from doing it again,” said Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch. “The problem is that if you went down the really principled road, a lot of people would still be in arbitrary detention in China.”

A US official who was aware of the government’s talks with Beijing told the AP that Hsu was not a “supply” for the Biden-Xi meeting and that what appeared to some to be a prisoner swap was rather the product of long — and ongoing efforts to get Beijing to meet its international obligations. The official was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he was not clear about the details of Hsu’s case, but that China was handling such cases according to established rules.

“I want to emphasize that everyone is equal before the law and that the relevant Chinese bodies handle such matters in accordance with the law and regulations,” Zhao said during a daily briefing on Wednesday. “When performing such tasks, there is no tolerance for interference, slander or distortion.”

Hsu told the AP that he was actually held hostage by Chinese authorities who were trying to convince his father to return to China and face trial for embezzling about $63,000 more than 20 years ago. Hsu’s father said he is innocent and the target of a political vendetta.

Under Chinese law, authorities have wide discretion to deny Chinese citizens and foreigners entry to the country. The US, Canada, Australia and the UK have warned people not to leave China arbitrarily.

Hsu’s is not the first case of hostage diplomacy involving China.

Hours after Canada released Meng Wanzhou, a powerful director of Chinese tech giant Huawei who had received an extradition request from the US on fraud charges, Beijing has released two Canadians detained in China on national security charges. The Chinese Foreign Ministry downplayed any connection to Meng’s case. The next day, two American siblings who — like Hsu — had been blocked for years from leaving China, returned to the United States.

Hsu’s luck didn’t change until the weeks leading up to the November video conference. Hsu said he received a call from the US embassy in Beijing on Thursday afternoon, November 11. He was ordered to go to Guangzhou, a southern China mega-city about 900 miles from his apartment in Shanghai, in time for a charter flight home early Sunday morning.

He went to his 103 year old grandmother. She cried when he told her he was leaving. “I could see she was wondering if she’d see me again,” he said.

Hsu never told his grandmother about his travel ban because he was concerned about her health. He never told her that he had been in solitary confinement for six months, under constant surveillance, with lights that never went out. Or that his wife – also innocent of any crime – was also blocked from leaving China until last year, for reasons that were never clear to them. As a result, their teenage daughter was orphaned in Seattle for nearly three years.

Sunday morning 14 November dawned in Guangzhou with a bright blue sky. At the airport, Hsu walked across the tarmac to a waiting Gulfstream 5 jet.

Hsu said he saw seven people disembark, though he didn’t know who they were.

Only one – Xu Guojun, a former Chinese bank manager – was handcuffed. China called Xu’s return a “great achievement” in China’s global fight against corruption. A federal court in Las Vegas had convicted the former Bank of China manager of conspiracy, and he spent nearly 13 years in US prison, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Two other returnees – Zhang Yujing and Lu Jing – attempted to enter Mar-a-Lago in 2019. Two more — Wang Yuhao and Zhang Jielun — illegally photographed a naval air station in 2020. The last couple — Sun Yong and Tang Junliang — had been convicted of financial crimes, according to DHS and Justice Department records.

And then it was Hsu’s turn. He climbed ten flights of stairs with a single suitcase and a carry-on bag.

“That was a real relief,” Hsu said. “I took a deep breath as I sat down in my chair.”

Thanksgiving this year promises to be a huge improvement from the holiday four years ago, which Hsu said he celebrated in solitary confinement in Hefei, where he convinced his caretakers to bring him a special meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Hsu spent the six-hour flight from Guangzhou to Guam reading “Dune” in Mandarin, playing video games, and talking to half a dozen immigration and customs authorities. Then there was a three-hour layover in Guam, a seven-hour flight to Honolulu, a 24-hour layover in Hawaii, and a five-and-a-half hour flight to Phoenix.

In Phoenix, he transferred to a commercial flight, which was delayed by nearly three hours. While Biden and Xi discussed the need to avoid conflict, Hsu paced the airport, exhausted and aimless. “I’ve been trying to read a book or read something on my phone, but I just can’t,” Hsu said. “I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I couldn’t wait to see my wife.”

Finally, around 10pm, Hsu landed in Seattle. A representative of the Office of the Presidential Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs was waiting for him. So was his wife, Jodie Chen.

“I just held her and gave her a hug,” Hsu said. “A really big one, very tight.”

“Welcome home,” Chen said.

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