Two American siblings who were barred from leaving China for three years have now finally been allowed to return home to the United States – just days after Canada released Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and two Canadians were freed from Beijing in an apparent prisoner swap.
Cynthia and Victor Liu, who are both Massachusetts residents, returned to the US on Sunday after China lifted their long-standing exit ban.
The sudden lift on their ban coincided with Canada’s release of Meng, a top Chinese tech executive who had been wanted in the US on fraud charges, after she reached a deal with the US Justice Department on Friday.
Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — two Canadians who were detained in China shortly after Meng’s 2018 arrest — were also released that same day and allowed to return to Canada in the wake of the tech executive’s deal.
The White House on Monday insisted the near-simultaneous release of the tech executive and the two Canadians was not a prisoner swap.
They have not commented on the Liu siblings’ return to the U.S.
The siblings had traveled to China with their mother Han Tong in 2018 to visit a sick relative, but they were banned from leaving in an apparent bid to pressure their father Liu Changming to return to China to face money laundering charges.
Cynthia works as a consultant at McKinsey & Company, while her brother is a Georgetown University student, according to the New York Times.
The siblings were not accused of any wrongdoing but were subjected to the exit ban.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has insisted the exit ban on the two siblings was legal in relation to the investigation into their parents.
Their mother — who is also a US citizen and Massachusetts resident — remains detained in China, and the whereabouts of their father remains unknown.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman brought up the issue of exit bans with Chinese officials when she visited the country back in July.
“I also took the opportunity to press for the release of US and Canadian citizens who are subject to arbitrary detention or who are under exit bans,” Sherman told the Associated Press.
“People are not bargaining chips.”
Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) hailed their return in a statement late Monday.
“We are so pleased to welcome Cynthia and Victor Liu back home after three difficult years being held in China as pawns for the Chinese government,” they said.
“Cynthia and Victor had their young lives completely upended as they were prevented from returning home for more than three years.”
Their return is the latest in a series of moves that were seemingly made to de-escalate tensions in the wake of the Huawei deal.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was repeatedly questioned Monday about the Biden administration’s involvement in the apparent prisoner swap between China and Canada over the weekend — where she insisted that charges being dropped against Meng was not political and was strictly a “legal matter.”
“Firstly, we would not refer to it in those terms,” Psaki said. “This is a law enforcement matter as it relates to, specifically, the Huawei official who was released. So, this is a legal matter.”
While Psaki defended the Department of Justice’s move, she did admit that the administration does not know whether the release of Wanzhou will incentivize China to seize other foreign nationals to strike similar deals.
“We can’t determine how the Chinese or others manage their business over there, it’s a little bit different. But, we have an independent Justice Department that made independent decisions, law enforcement decisions,” she said. “At the same time, we have made no secret about our push to have the two Michael’s released. That’s certainly positive news and good news.”
Psaki also revealed that during President Biden’s call with Chinese President Xi earlier this month, the White House did make clear the importance of returning the two Canadians detained in China home.
There was no negotiation on the call, Psaki said.
With Post Wires