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China lets US siblings return home after three years

·3 min read

Two American siblings banned from leaving China for the last three years have been allowed to go home.

Cynthia and Victor Liu, along with their mother, were accused of "economic crimes" while on a visit to China.

They said Chinese authorities restricted them to lure their father back to face fraud charges.

The latest move coincides with the high-profile release of Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou and two Canadians over the weekend.

Critics have in the past accused China of using ordinary citizens as political bargaining chips, in what is known as "hostage diplomacy". China has always denied this.

On Monday, US senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren said in a statement that Cynthia and Victor Liu were back home "after three difficult years being held in China as pawns for the Chinese government".

They added that the siblings' mother, Sandra Han, was also a US citizen and was "detained in China". The senators said they were working with the US government to secure her release.

In 2018, the three of them had travelled to China to visit relatives. Ms Liu was a 27-year-old consultant and Mr Liu was a 19-year-old university student at the time.

Days later, their mother was detained by Chinese officials and taken to a "black jail", a secretive detention centre, according to the children. They found they could not leave China as well.

At the time China's foreign ministry justified the restrictions saying that the three of them had documents showing they were Chinese citizens, and were "suspected of having committed economic crimes".

But the siblings told The New York Times newspaper then that Chinese authorities were using them to lure their father, a former state-owned bank executive, back to China to face criminal fraud charges, even though he had reportedly cut ties with the family in 2012.

According to an earlier report by state news outlet China Daily, their father Liu Changming is one of the country's 100 most wanted fugitives facing arrest for alleged corrupt practices. He fled China in 2007.

Their mother, Ms Han, is a businesswoman with millions of dollars in real estate holdings, according to The New York Times.

'No link'

US reports said China allowed the Lius to leave on the same weekend that authorities let go of Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who were arrested in China in 2018 and accused of espionage.

The Canadians' release came hours after Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou, who was held in Canada on US fraud charges, was freed.

The apparent swap brought to an end a damaging diplomatic row between Beijing and the West.

When asked by reporters on Monday whether it would incentivise China to continue such tactics, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: "I think it's important to note, and to be very clear about this, there is no link."

She said the US Justice Department had taken "independent decisions" to cut a deal with Canadian prosecutors, which led to Ms Meng's release.

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