Why has China secretly detained this American businesswoman for past 6 months?

Sandy Phan-Gillis has been held in China since March, according to her husband. It is not clear whether any formal charges have been filed against her.

Courtesy of SaveSandy.org
Sandy Phan-Gillis (shown in this undated photo from a flier posted on website SaveSandy.org by her husband) has been held in China since March.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday that an American businesswoman, Sandy Phan-Gillis, has been held under investigation for months, accused of “endangering China’s national security” by spying and stealing state secrets.

According to a website created by Ms. Phan-Gillis’ husband, Jeff Gillis of Houston, Texas, his wife was taken into custody in March while crossing into Macau on a trip to promote Houston-Chinese business partnerships, while accompanied by several businessmen, including Houston Mayor Pro-Tem and City Council member Ed Gonzalez. Ms. Phan-Gillis has been active for years in Texan Asian-American associations, the website says, and serves as president of the Houston-Shenzhen Sister City Association.

Mr. Gillis says that Chinese authorities have yet to file any formal charges against his wife, who he claims is suffering from high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, on the other hand, says that Phan-Gillis is in good health and cooperating with Chinese officials, and has been allowed to speak several times with US consular officers.

However, she has not been permitted to speak with friends or family, and was transferred on Saturday from house arrest to a detention center in the southwestern city of Nanning, according to a statement released by the Chinese government.

“Sandy is not a spy or a thief,” Gillis says in a statement posted on SaveSandy.org. “She is a hard working businesswoman who spends huge amounts of time on non-profit activities that benefit Houston-China relations.”

According to Reuters, “China's state secrets law is notoriously broad, covering everything from industry data to the exact birth dates of state leaders. Information can also be labeled a state secret retroactively.”

News of Phan-Gillis’ detention breaks just as Chinese President Xi Jinping begins his first state visit to the United States. On Thursday, he will talk with President Obama in a much-hyped meeting set against concerns over cyber security, which may set the course for future Chinese-US relations

According to the SaveSandy website bio, Phan-Gillis braved an arduous journey as a teenager to emigrate from Vietnam, where she was born to Chinese parents, to Malaysia, and eventually the United States, where she launched a career and sponsored her family’s immigration.

“I view my wife as a true American hero, and I would like to get her back,” Gillis says.

This report includes material from Reuters.

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