American Barred From Leaving China Returned to U.S. Before Biden-Xi Meeting

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
A screen displays a CCTV state media news broadcast showing Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden during a virtual summit, in Beijing, China November 16, 2021. (REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

An American who had been blocked for years from leaving China has returned to the United States, the U.S. government told Reuters, his release coming just hours before the two countries’ leaders met this week.

Daniel Hsu’s return also coincided with the United States’ deportation of seven Chinese nationals convicted of crimes, including at least one who was sought by Beijing to face fraud charges. A U.S. government official denied the individuals were part of an exchange.

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

He arrived home on Monday evening, just as President Joe Biden held a 3 and 1/2 hour video conference with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Hsu, a Chinese American, was one of an undisclosed number of U.S. citizens the United States says China is holding unlawfully under “coercive exit bans.”

The exit bans are one of many disputes that have sent U.S.-Sino relations to their lowest point in years. The U.S. government warned citizens this year to reconsider travel to China due to the exit bans, which it said China can use to “gain bargaining leverage over foreign governments.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said separately that it had flown back to China the Chinese nationals, including individuals convicted of fraud and photographing a defense installation, as well as two women who had tried to gain access to former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Their return marked what U.S. officials said were “initial steps” to resolve a long running feud between Beijing and Washington over China’s refusal to accept the repatriation of tens of thousands of Chinese nationals subject to removal orders.

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

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

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

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

Chinese authorities have been silent over Hsu’s case.