Engineer’s Return to China Leads to Jail and Limbo

The New York Times looks at the convoluted case of Hu Zhicheng, a naturalized American citizen and engineer who returned to China to work, but has been unable to leave the country because he is wanted on undefined charges:

Mr. Hu, an inventor trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with 48 patents and a number of prestigious science awards to his name, was jailed for a year and a half starting in 2008 after a former business associate accused him of commercial theft. The charges were so spurious that prosecutors withdrew the case — a rare gesture in China’s top-down legal system.

But since his release 19 months ago, Mr. Hu’s life has been in limbo and his family has grown increasingly frantic. He writes to powerful Communist Party officials who he imagines might control his fate. A coterie of influential friends and colleagues has been lobbying on his behalf. And this month, his daughter, a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, began a petition campaign that has garnered more than 50,000 signatures.

Richard Buangan, a spokesman for the United States Embassy in Beijing, said that American diplomats had had little success in pressing his case with Chinese officials. “No authority has been cooperative with our request for information on the restrictions that block his departure from China,” he said.

Mr. Hu’s predicament highlights the potential perils of doing business in China, where commercial disputes can easily become criminal matters, especially when the politically well-connected use the country’s malleable legal system to bludgeon rivals. Most worrisome, legal experts say, are the country’s vague commercial secrets laws that state-owned enterprises — the companies that dominate China’s economy — sometimes wield to protect information related to production, procurement, mergers and strategic planning.

Read more about Hu’s case via CDT and in an AP article from October.

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