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Exclusive American banned from leaving China returned to US ahead of Biden-Xi meeting

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By Michael Martina

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An American who had been barred for years from leaving China has returned to the United States, the U.S. government told Reuters, with his release coming just hours before the leaders of the two countries meet this week.

Daniel Hsu’s return also coincided with the US expulsion of seven Chinese nationals convicted of crimes, including at least one wanted by Beijing to face fraud charges. A US government official denied that the individuals were part of an exchange.

The US official, authorized to speak to Reuters on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Hsu – who had never been convicted of a crime in China and had been subject to an exit ban for more than four years – had been authorized by the Chinese authorities to leave the country last weekend.

He returned home Monday evening, just as President Joe Biden was holding a 3.5-hour video conference with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Hsu, a Chinese American, was among an undisclosed number of US citizens that the United States has said China is illegally detaining under “coercive exit bans.”

Exit bans are one of many disputes that have pushed US-China-US relations to their lowest point in years. The US government has warned citizens this year to reconsider travel to China because of exit bans, which it said China can use to “leverage foreign governments.”

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) separately said it had repatriated Chinese nationals to China, including people convicted of fraud and photographing a defense facility, as well as two women who had attempted to gain access to former President Donald Trump. a-Lago resort.

Their return marked what US officials have called “the first steps” to resolve a long-running feud between Beijing and Washington over China’s refusal to agree to the repatriation of tens of thousands of Chinese nationals subject to attack. a deportation order.

“We welcome the return of Daniel Hsu to the United States,” the official said, denying that the seven were part of an exchange linked to the leaders’ meeting.

“This is not how we see them. These actions are for the PRC to reverse things that should never have happened in the first place,” the official said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of. China.

“There are other Americans subject to exit bans and arbitrary detentions in the PRC, and we will continue to work to secure their release. And we will continue to pressure the PRC to accept additional repatriation flights, ”the official said.

Reuters could not reach Hsu for comment.

Hsu told The Associated Press last year that he had indeed been held hostage by Chinese authorities since 2017 in an attempt to lure his father to China to face decades-old embezzlement charges. .

Chinese authorities have remained silent on Hsu’s case.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his release or the deportations.

“ESSENTIAL CONSEQUENCES”

ICE told Reuters in a statement that Xu Guojun, a former chairman of a Bank of China branch who fled to the United States in 2001 and was wanted in China on suspicion of embezzlement , was among the expelled Chinese nationals. China confirmed its return on Sunday.

Other people returned to China included Zhang Yujing and Lu Jing, both of whom attempted to enter Mar-a-Lago in 2019; Wang Yuhao and Zhang Jielun, who were sentenced to 10 months and 12 months respectively for photographing a US defense installation in Florida; and Sun Yong and Tang Junliang, convicted of financial crimes.

A source with knowledge of the deportation operation, who was not authorized to speak to Reuters, said there was broad approval within the US government for what was seen as an effort to show goodwill before the virtual summit.

But the source added that some officials were concerned about the optics of an apparent exchange linked to the meeting, fearing it would encourage Beijing to use more exit bans.

Two American siblings facing exit bans from China since 2018 were released by Beijing in September just days after a deal that allowed Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou to return to China from Canada.

At the time, the White House said his return to China and the near simultaneous release of two detained Canadians shortly after his arrest was not a prisoner exchange.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry hailed the return of Xu, the former chairman of the bank branch, as a “major achievement” in his hunt for fugitives.

But some of the others were among more than 40,000 Chinese nationals facing final deportation orders from the United States for which the Department of Homeland Security has said China refuses to cooperate.

A DHS spokesperson said the department hoped to work with China on removals, but noted that it had imposed visa sanctions on Chinese officials last year for refusing to facilitate repatriations.

“As the PRC government continues to flout international obligations and disobey US law, DHS will continue to seek harsher consequences if necessary,” the DHS spokesperson said.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Mary Milliken and Daniel Wallis)

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