An American woman, held for two years in Chinese custody for spying charges, was released and “deported” back to the United States, Channel News Asia reported, the development confirmed by the U.S. State Department on Sunday.
Sandy Phan-Gillis was arrested in March 2015 after visiting China with a trade delegation on behalf of the oil industry in her hometown of Houston, Texas. She was released just days after being sentenced to three and a half years in prison for espionage, stealing state secrets, and passing intelligence to a third party.
“We are aware that Chinese authorities deported Ms. Phan-Gillis back to the United States,” a State Department official said. “The United States welcomes her home.”
Dui Hua, a San Francisco-based human rights group who had been working on Phan-Gillis’ case, said she was reunited with her family in Los Angeles.
On the one-year anniversary of her detention, Phan-Gillis had still not been charged with any crime.
Newsweek reported at the time that Phan-Gillis had “been in and out of China dozens of times over the years,” leading “powerful business delegations from her hometown of Houston to Shenzhen, China’s Silicon Valley.”
Phan-Gillis disappeared after excusing herself from dinner on the last night of a business trip to meet with a friend. She called her husband and friends to tell them her stay in China had been extended, with Mr. Gillis describing his wife’s voice as sounding “strained” during their last call.
The U.S. Consulate did not establish that Phan-Gillis had been detained by the Chinese communist government, and it took months more to learn why they were holding her.
Phan-Gillis’ return to the U.S. comes just three weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping met with President Donald Trump at his Florida estate. Since their first face-to-face and very cordial meeting, the two leaders “have been in constant touch with each other,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said on Friday.
The human rights group Dui Hua said negotiations to secure the release of Phan-Gillis ramped up during U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Beijing in March.
“Tillerson’s State Department was assisted by the White House in bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion,” the human rights group said.
The United Nation’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had criticized China’s handling of the case of Phan-Gillis, who was born in Vietnam and escaped that country as part of the exodus in the late 1970s of the “boat people” who were fleeing the communist government.