An American businesswoman is facing charges in China that she spied on the Chinese government about 20 years ago, including charges that she attempted to recruit U.S.-based Chinese to spy on their home country.
The charges facing Phan Phan-Gillis come more than a year after she was detained while visiting China with an American trade delegation that was promoting business opportunities in her hometown of Houston, Texas.
Phan-Gillis' husband, Jeff Gillis, said she has been charged with spying for a foreign government from 1996 to 1998. He said the indictment was received by Phan-Gillis' lawyers "weeks after it was issued in court" and added the charges are "absolutely false." He said the charges did not indicate the government she allegedly spied for.
A United Nations panel ruled in June that China violated internal human rights standards by detaining Phan-Gillis when she had not appeared before judicial authorities or provided legal assistance. Phan-Gillis has not been available for comment since she was detained in March 2015.
Spying convictions carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. China has a 20-year limit on the prosecution of capital crimes such as espionage, but sometimes allows for exceptions.
Relations between the U.S. and China have been increasingly tense due to differences on a number of issues, including those involving economic and trade policy and cybersecurity. U.S.-China relations could be further strained by the Phan-Gillis' case, which is being publicized only days before U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit China for the Group of 20 summit, a meeting of officials from 20 of the world's largest economies. The summit begins Sunday and Obama will meet with Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping in Hangzhou, the capital of China’s Zhejiang province
Phan-Gillis immigrated to the U.S. nearly 40 years ago. She was born in Vietnam to a family of Chinese descent. The family fled Vietnam and resettled in the U.S. After working for city of Houston government, Phan-Gillis developed a business consultancy that took her to China numerous times over the years.