HOUSTON - Chinese President Xi Jinping U.S. Visit comes days after Chinese authorities formally arrested and jailed a U.S. businesswoman from Houston on suspicion of spying and stealing state secrets. Her husband has been left wondering when he'll next see the woman he married in 2002.
Sandy Phan-Gillis, who runs a consulting firm that facilitates business dealings between U.S. and Chinese companies, was on a trip to China in March when authorities placed her in a residential detention facility.
“My wife is not a spy. My wife is not a thief. She is not a criminal,” Jeff Gillis said at his Houston home. “My wife is a hardworking businesswoman who has spent years working on any kind of thing that can help create cooperation between Houston and China.”
Gillis has been hoping that U.S. officials could negotiate his wife's release. Now, he has publicly asked President Barack Obama to bring the case up with the Chinese leader when they meet Friday.
Although he has hired lawyers, Gillis said it has been difficult to get any information from his wife or about her.
“I am able to communicate only through the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou,” he said. “No family is able to talk to her, or friends, or even her lawyers.”
In the latest meeting, on September 23, Sandy sent a message to her husband, part of which reads: “This is a political case. I hope you can lobby for an exchange of political prisoners. I know it’s not easy.”
The U.S. has raised the case with the Chinese government, according to U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
“We obviously are monitoring this case very closely,” he said. “We’ve been to visit her six times since her arrest, and we’ve raised her case with Chinese government officials on multiple occasions at a very senior level.”
Phan-Gillis' arrest has come as a shock to both Houston’s Vietnamese and Chinese communities. Although she is of Chinese descent, she was born in Vietnam and came to the United States from that country as a refugee 40 years ago.
Over the years, many businesses in Houston have developed relationships with Chinese firms, but the arrest of Phan-Gillis makes some uneasy.
“I have heard of many local Chinese who have not gone back to China since Sandy was detained because they are afraid,” her husband said.
And Gillis said he feared that if she wasn't freed within a few weeks, he might not see his wife for years, if ever.