Georgetown University students and faculty deliberated over strategies and encouraged the university to attempt to accelerate the return of Victor Liu (COL ’21) and his sister, who are being prevented from leaving China, at a Nov. 17 event.
Chinese authorities barred Liu and his sister, Cynthia Liu, from leaving China since June 2018 in an attempt to compel their estranged father, Liu Changming, to face criminal charges in Chinese court. Changming, who left China in 2007 and cut ties with his children and wife in 2012, is accused of facilitating a $1.4 billion fraud scheme during his tenure at a state-owned bank and is among one of China’s most wanted criminals.
The siblings first traveled to China in June 2018 with their mother, Sandra Han, to visit their dying grandfather. Days after their arrival, the siblings lost contact with their mother, who was detained and sent to a secret holding facility. All three are U.S. citizens.
The Lius’ case comes as the United States and China have engaged in a trade war, a geopolitical struggle that has made the Lius’ return increasingly difficult, according to Evan Medeiros, the Penner Family chair in Asian studies in the School of Foreign Service and a Cling Family senior fellow in U.S.-China Relations.
“What the Chinese are focused on is negotiating this big trade deal with the Trump administration, and, as a result, the situation of Victor and Cynthia is a chit that the Chinese are trying to figure out — what kind of leverage can they elicit from the United States,” Medeiros said at the discussion.
The event, titled “Detained in China: One Year Later, What Can We Do?”, was organized by the Asian American Student Association Political Awareness Committee Co-chairs Leina Hsu (COL ’22) and Gina Kang (SFS ’22). After a brief presentation by Hsu and Kang, Victor Liu’s personal friends offered anecdotes about Liu and called on the Georgetown administration to do more to facilitate his release.
The university should increase publicity on the issue and reevaluate Georgetown’s relationship with China, according to Noor Darwish (MSB ’21), Liu’s freshman year roommate.
“It’s been a year, and we haven’t gotten a statement from the president’s office about Victor’s situation, and that would really generate a lot of noise in the media and hopefully spur policymakers to do something,” Darwish said at the event. “We have 10 partners in China — different universities, different organizations. It would really be a big statement if we cut off those ties.”
The university’s global engagement office has 29 partners in China, including The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies, a Jesuit educational center offering coursework and programing, and excursions to increase the world’s understanding of China; the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, an executive state agency; and the China Construction Bank, a major bank in China.
Two university officials offered insights into the administration’s efforts to free the siblings. The university has met with senior U.S. government officials, including President Donald Trump and contacts in China, to help Liu and his family, according to Joe Ferrara, chief of staff to University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95).
“We have engaged in constant advocacy for Victor and Cynthia and their family,” Ferrara said at the discussion. “The message we’re trying to send in all of this is that we look at Victor as a member of the Georgetown community, and the most important thing we do every day is to try and protect the safety and security of the Georgetown community.”
Ferrara has been in routine communication with Liu since June 2018, he said.
Government officials familiar with the case, including Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have advocated for the siblings’ release with little success, according to Medeiros.
“The U.S. has raised this multiple times at very, very high levels, and the Chinese response, to my understanding, is sort of some equivalent of, ‘How much is it worth to you?’” Medeiros said.
Liu, who would have begun his junior year this semester, studied classics and economics his freshman year and was deeply involved in Hilltop Consultants and the Georgetown University Student Investment Fund on campus.
The Georgetown University Student Association executive called on China to immediately release the siblings and advocated for the U.S. government to work to return Victor and Cynthia Liu in a Nov. 14 statement.
“The Georgetown University Student Association considers the wrongful detainment of Victor and Cynthia Liu an attack on our community,” the statement said. “We are committed to continue advocating for our international humanitarian rights on behalf of all of our individual members.”
This article and photograph caption have been updated to reflect that Hsu and Kang organized the event on behalf of the Asian American Student Association.