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Beijing — An American brother and sister barred from exiting China since 2018 in an apparent bid to pressure their father to return and face criminal allegations have finally left the country, Beijing and Washington confirmed on Tuesday.
Neither side gave a reason for the sudden lifting of a Chinese exit ban on Victor and Cynthia Liu, but the development could add to accusations in the United States that President Joe Biden’s government was engaging in “hostage diplomacy” with China.
The siblings’ release came shortly after the US Justice Department last Friday announced a deal to defer prosecution of felony fraud charges against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
“We welcome Cynthia and Victor Liu’s return to the United States on Sunday,” a state department spokesperson told AFP in an emailed statement, confirming they had returned to the US.
The spokesperson did not comment on the circumstances of their return.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson also confirmed they had departed.
Beijing said in 2018 that the siblings, along with their mother Sandra Han, were barred from leaving due to suspected “economic crimes”.
The US-born Victor had been set to start his second year at Georgetown University while Cynthia was heading back to work with consulting firm McKinsey & Company, The New York Times reported at the time.
It quoted the siblings saying they were being prevented from leaving to compel their father, a former executive at a Chinese state-owned bank, to return to the country and face criminal charges.
Their mother was allegedly being held in a secret site known as a “black jail”, the Times had reported.
Neither the State Department nor the Chinese foreign ministry gave updated details on Han’s status.
“We oppose the use of coercive exit bans against people who are not themselves charged with crimes,” the State spokesperson said.
“We will continue to advocate on behalf of all American citizens in the PRC subject to arbitrary detention and coercive exit bans.”
Meng, the Chinese tech giant’s chief financial officer, had been under house arrest since 2018 in Vancouver where she was arrested on a US extradition warrant.
Days later, China arrested two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor.
All three returned to the respective countries at the weekend following the deal in Meng’s case, prompting some US Republicans to allege Biden was “appeasing” China and encouraging further thuggish behaviour by trading in detainees.
The Biden administration has denied any link between the cases.
Current State Department guidance advises US citizens to “reconsider” travel to China due to the use of exit bans “without due process.”
During a daily news briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Tuesday such accusations were an “absurd rumour” and accused the US of being the “originator of hostage diplomacy.”
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