Political News

Senators target China's 'exit bans' as Americans continue to be held by Beijing

Posted January 15, 2020 9:02 p.m. EST

— A group of bipartisan senators on Wednesday introduced legislation aimed at punishing Beijing for blocking American citizens from leaving that country, on the same day that the White House signed an initial trade deal with China,

The bill introduced Wednesday takes aim at China's use of "exit bans" and comes as Chinese authorities have prevented an American family from leaving more than a year and a half through the use of such a ban. That case has risen to the highest levels of the US and Chinese governments, according to a source familiar.

The Liu siblings -- Cynthia, 28, and Victor, 20 -- and their mother, Sandra Han, traveled to China in June 2018 to visit their ailing grandfather and have been held there since.

The brother and sister have made public pleas about their plight, and in a letter to Sen. Edward Markey last week, Cynthia Liu implored the Massachusetts Democrat for his help.

"We have now become political pawns, and only with the forceful advocacy and involvement of the United States government will this nightmare be able to end," she wrote in a letter obtained by CNN. "This is why we are writing to you, because Victor and I cannot take any more of this."

"Senator, our time in China has been challenging beyond comprehension," Cynthia Liu, who is a Massachusetts resident, wrote. She noted it had been holiday season of "fear," "deep loneliness," and "hopelessness."

Markey was one of four sponsors of Wednesday's legislation, along with fellow Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Maryland Democrat Sen. Chris Van Hollen. If passed, the legislation would provide for the denial or revocation of visas from Chinese officials "who were substantially involved in the formulation or execution" of the exit ban policy and would require regular reports to Congress about the application of this measure. It would also require the State Department to publicly report on the number of US citizens affected by the exit bans.

"The Chinese government's use of 'exit bans' is oppressive and unjustified," Markey said in a statement. "Two of my constituents, Victor and Cynthia Liu, have been unfairly barred from leaving China since June of 2018. In addition to having their lives upended by not being able to return home, they face regular surveillance, harassment, and threats from Chinese authorities. This legislation will make sure that Chinese authorities responsible for their mistreatment, and for the mistreatment of other Americans, know that such denial of basic rights is unacceptable."

Although Cynthia and Victor Liu were initially prevented from leaving China as an alleged means to pressure their father, Liu Changming -- a high-profile Chinese fugitive -- into returning to Beijing, a source familiar with their case told CNN Wednesday that it has become highly politicized. That source said bringing the Liu siblings home will require the engagement of US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The White House declined to comment on whether Trump had raised the case with Chinese officials in Washington on Wednesday. The State Department did not immediately have an update on their case, but a spokesperson told CNN in May 2019 they were "watching US citizens Victor and Cynthia Liu's case with concern."

In a travel advisory issued last year, the State Department warned US citizens of China's "coercive" use of exit bans.

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