Seattle resident Daniel Hsu released from China after four years

Hsu was permitted to leave China only if seven Chinese nationals who were convicted of crimes in the U.S. were sent back.

Updated: November 24, 2021 - 8:30pm

After being blocked from leaving China for four years, U.S. citizen Daniel Hsu has finally returned to his home in Seattle.

“We welcome Daniel Hsu's return to the United States, who was subject to a coercive exit ban,” a State Department spokesperson who spoke on the condition of anonymity said in a statement to Voice of America.

Though committing no crime, Hsu was held as a pawn in a conflict between the People’s Republic of China and the United states. The Seattle resident was permitted to leave China only if seven Chinese nationals who were convicted of crimes in the U.S. were sent back.

Four days before President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s Nov. 15 virtual meeting, Hsu was given 48 hours to prepare to go home.

“It was a total rush,” Hsu told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from suburban Seattle.

His return followed the Nov. 12 release of the seven Chinese nationals. The U.S. denied that the releases were linked, according to Reuters.

The Chinese nationals included a former president of a Bank of China branch, two individuals convicted of fraud, two individuals convicted of photographing a defense installation, and two women who attempted to enter former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in 2019.

Hsu was held in solitary confinement by Chinese authorities from August 2017 to February 2018. His cell was a beige room covered in rubber with no sharp edges, he told the AP.

Tables were wrapped in soft leather, and white blinds covered two barred windows. Surveillance cameras recorded his movements, and two guards silently watched him at all times. His room was always brightly lit, and guards woke him up if he rolled away from the surveillance cameras in his sleep, Hsu said.

The Chinese officials sought to convince his father to return to China to be prosecuted for allegedly embezzling approximately $63,000 more than 20 years ago while he was chairman of a government real estate company. Hsu's father maintains that he is innocent and that the charges stem from a political vendetta.

After Hsu’s release, he was subject to an exit ban and barred from leaving China. Reuters reported that an undisclosed number of U.S. citizens have been banned from leaving China.

“China uses exit bans coercively,” the State Department warned in a Jan. 3 travel advisory, “to compel U.S. citizens to participate in Chinese government investigations, to lure individuals back to China from abroad, and to aid Chinese authorities in resolving civil disputes in favor of Chinese parties.”

Hsu was relieved to return to U.S. soil and be reunited with his wife, he told the AP.

The State Department spokesperson called the recent development “initial progress.”

“In recent months, the PRC has been more willing to engage in working-level channels of communication focused on specific bilateral issues where we have faced long-standing roadblocks and had long-standing concerns," the State Department spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the Biden Administration pressed the PRC on exit ban issues before the virtual meeting, and will continue to do so after.