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US Resident Held Hostage by Chinese Toy Factory Workers - 2001-12-21

Laid-off workers from a Chinese toy factory have held a U.S. resident hostage for two weeks, saying he owes them money. U.S. officials have expressed concern to local authorities, but have been unable to resolve the dispute.

Zhu Hai-ou, a 39-year-old New Jersey resident, has been held in a hotel since December 7 by workers laid-off from the Sheda Toy Factory in Sheyang, eastern China.

Speaking by telephone from his room, Mr. Zhu said the workers demand payment for stuffed toys the factory shipped to him for sale in the United States. Mr. Zhu, a U.S. permanent resident, said seven or eight workers at a time guard him constantly and prevent him from leaving the room. A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Beijing says American officials have expressed their concern about the situation to local authorities. However, since Mr. Zhu is not a U.S. citizen, consular officials are not guaranteed access to him.

A worker from the bankrupt toy factory, who spoke on condition his name be withheld, said he wants Mr. Zhu to pay $50,000, one-third of the total bill for the toys. The worker, speaking from the hotel, said Mr. Zhu has not given them a penny.

Mr. Zhu said the dispute dates backs to 1997. He complains that he couldn't sell the stuffed animals sent to him because some were so moldy, their heads and arms fell off, and other toys arrived too late for holiday sales deadlines.

He said he returned to Sheyang to resolve the disagreement. He said the toy factory applied for bankruptcy earlier this year, and the case is being handled by a local court.

Mr. Zhu's wife, Hu Lingling, said by telephone from New Jersey that Sheyang police have done nothing to help her husband, despite her repeated calls to them.

The police said only that they are not responsible for Mr. Zhu's situation.

Ms. Hu said her husband thought that with China's entry into the World Trade Organization, there would be more law and order, and he would not have a problem if he returned to Sheyang to settle the dispute.

Mr. Zhu said police urge him to talk with the workers to resolve the situation. The police told him they don't want to provoke the workers into protesting and disturbing social order.

The head of the Sheda Toy Factory, Zhu Keyu, said he cannot control the workers. But he said Zhu Hai-ou is in a comfortable place and has plenty to eat.

Robert Zhu said he understands the workers' frustration, but if he cannot return to the United States, there is no way he can pay them the money. He doesn't expect to leave his hotel room anytime soon.