CECC Chairs Troubled By Detention of American Citizen in China, Urge Secretary Kerry to Personally Call for Release

Congressional-Executive Commission on China
CECC Contact: 202–226–3777

October 26, 2015

(Washington, DC)--The Chairs of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) sent a letter to United States Secretary of State John Kerry saying they were “deeply troubled” by the detention of American citizen Sandy Phan-Gillis and asking the Secretary to “personally call” on the Chinese government to secure her immediate release. Ms. Phan-Gillis disappeared in March while on a trade mission and was detained under “residential surveillance” for six months before being formally arrested in late September.  She is being held in solitary confinement and has been reportedly hospitalized twice during her incarceration, interrogated daily, and refused access to lawyers.

In light of the detention of Ms. Phan-Gillis and other American businesspeople previously detained in China, the Chairs also urged the Secretary to consider issuing a travel advisory for China, as the Canadian government has done, so that Americans who routinely conduct business in the mainland, are aware of the potential risks involved.      

A full text of the letter can be seen below:


October 26, 2015

The Honorable John Kerry

Secretary of State

Washington DC

Dear Secretary Kerry,

We write regarding the deeply troubling detention of American citizen Sandy Phan-Gillis.  According to news reports, Ms. Phan-Gillis disappeared during a March trade mission and was reportedly under “residential surveillance” in the southern city of Nanning for six months before being formally arrested in late September and placed in detention on suspicion of spying and stealing state secrets.  Officially, the Chinese Government has only indicated that she is under investigation, "on suspicion of activities harmful to Chinese national security.”

It is important to note that while “residential surveillance” is a relatively innocuous sounding term it is often in fact an enforced disappearance, and in the case of Ms. Phan-Gillis, she has been held in solitary confinement in a secret location.  It is precisely the same method utilized by the government in the massive nationwide crackdown on human rights lawyers and legal advocates in China this summer.

It’s been reported that Ms. Phan-Gillis may be in stable condition, despite being denied necessary medication for several chronic ailments, hospitalized twice during her incarceration, interrogated daily and refused access to lawyers. In light of these reports and the circumstances surrounding her detention and treatment, we should take little solace in the vague assurances offered by Chinese Foreign Ministry that Ms. Phan-Gillis has been, "assured of all her rights…is in a good state of health and is cooperating with the investigation."  In fact, in a letter she penned, Ms. Phan-Gillis characterized her plight in the following way: “This is not a criminal case, this is a political case.”

In light of these realities, we respectfully request that you personally call on the Chinese government to immediately release Ms. Phan-Gillis and update us on what specific actions the United States Government has taken to seek consistent consular access and secure her release.

Protecting American citizens who travel, conduct business and live abroad is among the primary responsibilities of the U.S. Department of State.  In that vein, it seems advisable for the State Department to consider issuing a travel advisory for China, so that Americans, including untold numbers who routinely conduct business in the mainland, are aware of the potential risks involved.  Of note, Canada currently has an advisory in place urging Canadian citizens to “exercise a high degree of caution” when travelling to China.  Specifically it notes that, “Detention during the investigative period before charges are laid is common and can be lengthy.”  The advisory also warns that, “Canadian business travelers have been detained and had their passports confiscated as a result of business disputes with their Chinese counterparts” and notes that “Dual citizenship is not legally recognized in China. If local authorities consider you a Chinese citizen, they may refuse to grant you access to Canadian consular services, thereby preventing Canadian consular officials from providing you with those services.”  These cautionary words certainly seem to have applicability to Ms. Phan-Gillis’ case.

In closing, what little we know of Ms. Phan-Gillis’ treatment is cause for great concern as are the opaque charges being levied against her by a government which has shown an utter disregard for the rule of law.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this important matter.


Christopher Smith                                                                                             Marco Rubio

Chair                                                                                                                     Cochair