Talk about awkward. Xi Jinping only just arrived today in Washington to meet with President Obama on a host of topics and at the same time the press got hold of a story which both leaders probably wish had stayed out of the public’s attention for a while. The Chinese have been holding an American on charges of spying since early this spring. (Yahoo News)

A US businesswoman has been held for six months in China over alleged espionage, her supporters said, revealing a case that could complicate Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the United States, beginning Tuesday.

China’s ministry of state security detained Sandy Phan-Gillis in March and she is being investigated on accusations of “spying and stealing state secrets”, according to the website savesandy.org, which provides information on her and her case.

Phan-Gillis was held while crossing the border to Macau at the end of a visit to China by a trade delegation from the Texas oil capital Houston, where she is a member of the mayor’s International Trade and Development Council, the site said.

I’m not entirely sure how the press failed to get hold of this one unless Gillis’ husband has been under pressure to keep things close to the vest while negotiations were ongoing. Still, now that the cat is out of the bag it sounds like Josh Earnest didn’t have much to say when pressed on the matter. (Reuters)

The White House has contacted China’s Foreign Ministry over the detention of an American businesswoman accused of spying, a spokesman said on Tuesday, in a case that blew up just as President Xi Jinping began a visit to the United States…

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters it was “disconcerting” that many of the U.S. government’s questions “have gone unanswered” by Chinese officials about the status of Phan-Gillis.

“This is something that the United States State Department has been working on for quite some time,” Earnest said. “At this point, I certainly couldn’t rule out that it would come up in the conversation between the two leaders.”

Do you think it “might come up” this week, Josh? That’s comforting to the family, I’m sure. If we’ve been working on this for six months with no results there are two immediate possibilities which come to mind. First, maybe the woman actually is a spy even though her husband is denying it forcefully. (Doubtful, but you can’t discount the possibility entirely.) Or, second, maybe we really just have no influence with the Chinese these days and Barack Obama has been completely ineffectual in trying to get an innocent American released from a country that is massively dependent on US markets for their goods. That’s a real coin toss there, isn’t it?

We’ve had people stuck in Iran for ages now, but I suppose that’s to be expected in the current climate. Our leverage over Iran is thin to say the least. But China is still supposed to at least ostensibly supposed to be one of our major partners. Forget for a moment all of the recent military activity and rather obvious, threatening gestures they’ve been making. Our economies are linked together like Siamese twins at this point. You’d think we could get one of our own citizens out of jail. But since we can’t get anyone out of Iran I suppose we shouldn’t hold our breath for Ms. Phan-Gillis, eh?

Oh, and in case you missed it in other news, Boeing is going to open a factory in China now that they don’t have the Ex-Im bank anymore. Lovely. Maybe the President can bring that up too.