The Asian American Student Association (AASA) held an event on Nov. 17 in solidarity with Victor Liu (COL ’21), a College student who is barred from leaving China. China is holding him and his older sister, Cynthia Liu, who works at McKinsey & Company, in the country to coerce their estranged father to return to China to face charges of financial crimes.
The siblings and their mother, who are all American citizens, traveled to China in June 2018 to visit an ill family member. As they attempted to come back to the United States, Chinese authorities prevented them from getting on their flight. Since then, Victor and Cynthia have remained in China, and their mother has been detained in a secret jail. Months later, national media picked up their story.
The AASA event was titled “Detained in China: One Year Later, What Can We Do?” to reflect the organizers’ frustration that the Lius’ story has lost media attention.
After a recap of the Lius’ situation and the year and a half they have been stuck in China, the co-chairs of AASA’s Political Action Committee, Leina Hsu (COL ’22) and Gina Kang (SFS ’22), invited Joe Ferrara, chief of staff to Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, and Evan Medeiros, an SFS professor who worked on hostage negotiations with North Korea in the Obama administration, to address the group gathered in the Arrupe Multipurpose Room.
“It’s a frustrating situation,” Ferrara said. The Lius’ detainment comes in the middle of high-stakes talks over trade between the United States and China. The result, Medeiros said, is that the Lius are a potential bargaining chip in the larger international relationship. In the meantime, the administrators stressed the importance of getting in touch with the Lius.
After outlining the context, the event’s organizers turned to a brainstorming session. Among the key problems, they said, is that the Lius’ story does not have on-going media coverage.
“It slipped my mind,” said Hsu, who is also a Voice editor. She prompted members of the audience to come up with ways to prevent it from slipping the general public’s mind, too. As members of the audience raised their hands to volunteer their ideas, Hsu wrote them on a whiteboard.
One student suggested that advocates could use social media to raise the Lius’ profile in hopes of putting pressure on China to release them. Another suggested that the university facilitate a letter-writing campaign to members of Congress and the State Department.
Ferrara responded favorably to the second idea and promised to raise it with other administrators. He suggested that the Office of Federal Relations, which handles the university’s interactions with the federal government, could help arrange the letters and meetings. Already, DeGioia and other administrators have talked to high-ranking members of the U.S. government. DeGioia has talked to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the Lius multiple times in the year and a half since the siblings and their mother were first told they could not leave China.
Despite the amount of time that has passed, however, Medeiros remains hopeful, especially after seeing a group of students gathered to support their classmate. “It’s so heartening,” he said.