American Engineer Detained for Year in China

Hu Zhicheng, an American automotive engineer, has been held for over one year in China on charges of violating trade secrets. From David Barboza of the New York Times:

Hu Zhicheng, a Chinese-born American citizen who won awards in the United States for his work developing catalysts that control auto emissions, is being held in a case that involves a dispute with a former business partner in the northern port city of Tianjin.

Mr. Hu’s is the latest trade-secrets case to shed light on China’s harsh legal system and the complexities that can emerge in its dynamic but often ruthless business system.

The government has been holding another American, an oil geologist named Xue Feng, for nearly two years on suspicion of stealing state secrets. President Obama raised Dr. Feng’s detention during his visit to China last month.

Another ongoing detention case — that of Stern Hu, a Chinese-born Australian executive working for Rio Tinto, the Australian mining giant — has received widespread coverage in part because it caused diplomatic tensions between Australia and China.

ABC News has more details on the background of Hu’s arrest:

Hu’s wife, a China-born naturalized American like her husband, said Tianjin authorities’ real target is a China-based company she managed and whose cutting-edge products competed with those of the former business partner, the Hysci (Tianjin) Specialty Materials Co. Hysci, she said, complained that her startup was developing products unusually fast, prompting the trade secrets investigation.

“You don’t sue someone just because you think their R&D is too fast,” said Hong Li, who lives in the Los Angeles area with their two teenage children. “This case is being conducted illegally.”

Police traveled from Tianjin to raid her company, seizing computer hard drives and production materials, Li said, declining to name the location of the company. The U.S. Embassy said prosecutors have twice sent the case back to police for further investigation — often a sign the evidence is insufficient for an indictment.

Hysci declined comment, as did the Chinese company that employed Hu at the time of his detention. Prosecutors referred inquiries to the Tianjin police. The police information office said the criminal investigation is continuing but refused to elaborate other than to say “it is a complicated case.”

December 17, 2009, 10:41 PM
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