Victor Liu (COL ’22) and his sister Cynthia Liu were allowed to return to the United States on Sept. 26 after three years of being trapped in China under an exit ban.
The Liu siblings, along with their mother Sandra Han, travelled to China in 2018 to pay respects to their dying grandmother, but all three were prevented from departing the country despite being American citizens. The siblings were not accused of any wrongdoing, but nevertheless subject to an increasingly common diplomatic tactic the Chinese government uses to turn away foreign visitors at all exit points despite allowing them to roam within the country.
Victor and Cynthia were separated from Han, who is still being held in a secret detention facility known as a “black house” without clear charges. The siblings’ estranged father, Liu Changming, fled China in 2007 after officials began investigating his role in a $1.4 billion fraud case involving a state-owned bank in Guangzhou where he was the chief executive. The siblings’ lawyer at the time, David Pressman, told CBS news that the Chinese government was using them as leverage to convince their father to return, despite the Lius’ insistence that they had no way of contacting him.
In 2019, Georgetown’s Asian American Student Association (AASA) held an event in solidarity with the Liu siblings to address the lack of ongoing media attention around the siblings’ story. The event included testimonies from Victor’s close friends, who were deeply impacted by his detainment. Their plight drew national attention after a plea from Cynthia, who said, “We wake up every morning terrified.”
In response to the Lius’ release, Leina Hsu (COL ’22), former co-chair of the AASA political awareness committee, says that she’s grateful for the news.
“I believe that Georgetown, as an institution and community, owes a great amount of care to its members,” Hsu said. ”The school’s value of cura personalis should include extending efforts and resources to disadvantaged, discriminated, and, in this case, detained students.”
In an email to the Voice, a university spokesperson wrote that the administration has been in regular contact with Victor and has continually advocated for his return. Over the past few years, university officials have reached out to the U.S. president, U.S. state department, the Chinese foreign ministry, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, the U.S. ambassador to China, and Victor’s congressional representatives.
In November 2018, President John J. DeGioia visited Victor in Beijing. Accompanied by Dr. Evan Medeiros, an SFS professor who served as a top advisor on U.S.–China relations during the Obama administration, DeGioia also met with senior Chinese officials to push for the siblings’ release.
“Activism and community-building is most effective when the entire student body comes together, not just those who have the most intimate connections with those affected,” Hsu added.
The issue came to the fore again in January of 2020, when Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey urged the Trump administration to push for the siblings’ release following an emotional letter from Cynthia urging the senators to take action. The two senators also sponsored a bipartisan bill taking aim at exit bans, which included the revoking of visas for Chinese officials involved in exit ban policy, as well as making public information on the number of individuals affected by exit bans.
The siblings’ return coincided with the U.S. justice department’s decision to allow Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, to return to China after her arrest in 2018 as part of a fraud case related to Huawei’s sale of telecommunications equipment to Iran.
Medeiros, in a statement to the New York Times, said former President Donald Trump had raised the issue of the siblings’ release with President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in late 2018. Xi agreed to release the siblings, but the deal was called off when U.S. officials coordinated Meng’s arrest. Marc Ginsberg, the siblings’ pro bono lawyer, credited their release to a Sept. 9 phone call between President Joe Biden and Xi, although both governments deny any orchestrated deal to exchange the Liu siblings for Meng.
“Georgetown is now working with Victor to ensure a smooth transition back to campus life,” a university spokesperson wrote.
Hsu also offered advice as the siblings return to America. “I ask that students be respectful of Victor’s privacy during this time, whose life has been made so public by this terrifying situation.”
Leina Hsu was a former Opinion executive for the Voice.