Not long before President Trump expounded on how "honorable" he finds China's communist regime, my friend Ti-Anna Wang found herself and her 11-month-old baby in custody in the Hangzhou airport.
How she came to that predicament, after flying halfway around the world, offers a useful lesson on the regime's honor or lack thereof – and on the vindictive, bullying lengths it will go to keep one young woman from visiting her ailing father.
Ti-Anna, 29, barely knows her father, because in 2002 he was abducted by Chinese security agents while on a visit to Vietnam, bundled across the border, thrown into jail and, eventually, sentenced to life in prison after a one-day closed trial. His ostensible crimes were espionage and terrorism. His true offense was advocating democracy in China from his exile in North America.
In the fall of 2008, Ti-Anna took a year off before starting college to advocate for her father's freedom. As part of that effort, in January 2009, she wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post.
"When I was born in 1989, my parents named me Ti-Anna in commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre," she wrote. "This year, before I resume my schooling, I hope to raise awareness about my father's case and tell his story to remind people that despite China's economic success, it is still a country that has yet to embrace universally accepted values of human rights.
"Any government that jails its own people for political dissent still has a long way to go to become a respected member of the international community."
Much has changed since Ti-Anna wrote those words. She went to college and law school. She married and had a child.
But her father, Wang Bingzhang, remains in solitary confinement, perhaps now China's longest-serving political captive. And since she wrote that op-ed a decade ago, Ti-Anna has never been permitted to see him, though other relatives are allowed visits from time to time.
So when last summer she was granted a multiple-entry visa, she was, she told me, "pretty ecstatic." She had appealed in her letter of request for "goodwill and compassion."
"I assumed if they read the letter and gave me a visa," she said, "they were going to let me in."
A fair assumption, you might think.
But when she landed in China on Wednesday morning, she was pulled aside at passport control, was ushered into a holding room and was told, after an hour, that she would not be permitted into the country. Her husband and baby could enter. Her brother Times Wang, traveling separately, was allowed to enter.
But Ti-Anna was told: "You need to leave right now." No reasons were offered; no appeal was permitted.
"It felt very purposeful," she said. "It's way more agonizing to get the visa, make all these plans, have all this anticipation and then not be able to enter the country.
"Immediately, of course, I began to think: 'If I don't get to see him this time, I don't know if I'll ever see him again.' This felt like the closest I would ever get. And then I would think of my dad. I can only imagine that he was looking forward to it as much as I was."
Six hours later, Ti-Anna was marched, with her husband and daughter, onto a jet, was photographed in her seat and was sent off to South Korea. Her father, who was later allowed a 40-minute visit with Times, called the action "extremely cruel."
Why would the regime grant a visa and then deny entry? Maybe someone had a change of mind. Maybe one ministry overruled another. Or maybe Trump's "honorable" interlocutors simply wanted to torment a young woman a bit more and send a message to anyone else who might dare to criticize them.
Not long ago, China's strongman Xi Jinping boasted that China "has achieved a tremendous transformation: It has stood up, grown rich and is becoming strong."
But what kind of strength does it take to keep a grandfather locked up as his health declines? Where is the strength in depriving him of the chance to meet a granddaughter?
And what kind of nation uses its strength to toy with the emotions of his daughter?
"It's almost laughable that they would see me as a threat," she said.
Laughable, maybe. But not funny. And not honorable.
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