On a trip to China, Blinken speaks to Chinese people about cases of illegally detained Americans
Mark Swidan, a 48-year-old businessman from Texas, is on death row in China and has been behind bars since 2012 on fabricated charges.
As Secretary of State Antony Blinken departs Friday night for the largest diplomatic visit to China since 2018, Senator Ted Cruz and Rep. Michael Cloud, both Republicans from Texas, are imploring America’s top diplomats to take whatever action is necessary to ensure Swidan’s release.
“Your visit may represent the final opportunity to end the injustice of Mr. Swidan’s detention,” the two Republicans wrote in a letter delivered to the State Department on Thursday evening.
Blinken says he will raise the cases of the wrongfully detained Americans personally, but did not mention Swidan by name.
“This has been an ongoing conversation with the People’s Republic of China and something that always tops my list for me, which is concern for the safety and well-being of Americans around the world, including those who, in one way or another are detained.” Another, also arbitrarily,” Blinken told reporters on Friday.
The State Department believes Swidan was wrongly detained and has raised concerns about his health.
A United Nations working group has also described his detention as arbitrary and unfair.
Swidan has denied drug trafficking allegations against him. But in April, a Jiangmen Intermediate Court rejected his appeal and upheld the death penalty with a two-year suspended sentence. However, as Cruz and Cloud point out in their letter, Swidan’s passport shows that he was not even in the People’s Republic of China at the time of the alleged crimes. No drugs were found in his possession or in his hotel room.
Swidan was first arrested during the Obama administration; Republican lawmakers argue that the US government has “long” demonstrated an unacceptable lack of urgency on the case.
Swidan is one of three wrongfully detained American prisoners in China, who find themselves in the midst of what may be the most momentous and complicated geopolitical relationship for the US. Along with Swidan, pastor David Lin, 67, has been imprisoned in China since 2006, and Kai Li, 60, is also behind bars.
China has proved a particular challenge for the US when it comes to negotiations on the release or exchange of prisoners.
Li’s son Harrison said in an interview with CBS News on Wednesday that a personal appeal from Blinken could improve his father’s chances of being released. Li has been held in a Chinese prison since September 2016.
The years in detention during the COVID lockdown have been particularly difficult for Li, his son said, and even now his communication with the outside world is extremely limited and under constant surveillance by Chinese authorities. Harrison Li said his father is held in a very small cell with eight to 12 other prisoners and is only allowed to call home twice a month for a total of 7 1/2 minutes. In recent years, Li has become increasingly skeptical of the US government’s public promise that there is no higher priority than the welfare of US citizens.
“What’s important to our family is that my father is an innocent American wrongly imprisoned. And, you know, our government has failed to bring them home in three governments in almost seven years. And that’s what needs to be done.”
Harrison Li hopes President Biden will also agree to meet his family, as he did in the case of certain prisoners held in Russia and Syria.
The issue of wrongfully detained Americans and other US citizens being prevented from leaving China under so-called “exit bans” was raised earlier this month during a visit to Beijing by Deputy Minister Daniel Kritenbrink and Executive Director of the National Security Council Sarah Beran addressed. Kritenbrink told reporters Wednesday that the issue is consistently raised at the highest levels and “there is no higher priority for the US government than protecting US citizens abroad.”
At “In February, Cruz said, “If China wants to prove it’s not bad actors, if it wants to prove it can aspire to be a great nation, it should release Mark Swidan, because great nations and great powers hold.” They do not hold any political prisoners.