The White House has contacted China’s Foreign Ministry over the reported arrest of an American business woman accused of spying, a spokesman said Tuesday, in a case that blew up just as President Xi Jinping began a visit to the United States, Reuters reports.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters it was “disconcerting” that many of the US government’s questions “have gone unanswered” by Chinese officials about the status of Sandy Phan-Gillis who was detained six months ago.
“This is something that the United States State Department has been working on for quite some time,” Earnest said.
“At this point, I certainly can’t rule out that it would come up in the conversation between the two leaders,” he said.
The formal arrest of the Houston woman was confirmed by her husband and family, according to New York Times.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Phan-Gillis, suspected of “endangering China’s national security”, is being investigated by “relevant authorities.”
China has permitted her at least six consular visits as of mid-September, and she is in a good state of health and is cooperating with the investigation, Hong told a news briefing.
The Ministry of State Security could not be reached for comment.
“My wife is not a spy and she is not a thief. My wife is a hard-working businesswoman,” said Jeff Gillis about Phan-Gillis. “I am appalled at what happened to her.”
In March, Phan-Gillis, 55, along with Houston councilman Ed Gonzalez and his chief of staff Vincent Chau and Gary Ge traveled to China to speak with businessmen about a trade deal.
“I think it was just a routine thing,” said Gillis.
While traveling to Macau, the group passed through an immigration checkpoint. Phan-Gillis was detained. Councilman Gonzalez said he didn’t know what happened to Phan-Gillis at the time. He lost sight of her. She later called and told him and others to go on without her. She said she was going to stay in China longer than expected.
More than a week passed and Phan-Gillis’ husband did not hear from her. He got worried.
“I went into our T-Mobile online records to look at her phone use, and I could see that she had not used her phone in a week. This is very unusual behavior for my wife,” said Gillis.
After filing a missing person’s report with the Chinese consulate in Guangzhou, he finally got a phone call back.
“I get a call back from someone at the consulate saying ‘we know where your wife is. What happened is that she’s been detained by China’s spy agency, the ministry of state security,’” said Gillis.
The allegations of spying and stealing state records, he said, are something out of a movie.
“To me, it was so ridiculous, my initial thoughts for the first couple of weeks were this is a mistake,” he said.
Six months passed, and Gillis hired an attorney to try to convince the Chinese government that his wife is not a spy or a thief. He said a consulate official visits his wife every month to see how she is doing.
She had been hospitalized several times, but is not being tortured. Gillis said he wants to go public with his wife’s imprisonment to try and get the attention of President Barack Obama, who will be meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week.
“I want my wife back and I’m sure that she wants to be back very much too,” said Gillis.
Phan-Gillis is being held in the southwestern city of Nanning. Up until Sept. 19, she had been held under house arrest.
Over the weekend, she was transferred to a detention center.