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Sino-US relations

US student arrested in China after taxi driver dispute

Family of Guthrie McLean say he came to the aid of his mother who was assaulted by the driver in Zhengzhou and they are now concerned for his welfare

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 July, 2017, 4:44pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 4:04pm

The family of an American university student detained in China for five days without charge or contact beyond the police station have enlisted the help of US politicians to try to secure his release.

Guthrie McLean, a student at the University of Montana, was detained on Sunday evening in Zhengzhou in Henan province and formally arrested the following day.

His detainment follows an incident on June 10 when a taxi fare dispute between his mother and a driver turned violent, Montana’s Missoulian newspaper reported.

Tom Mitchell, a long-time family friend and the Beijing bureau chief of the Financial Times, told the Montana paper that the altercation occurred when Jennifer McLean, who is deaf and teaches in China, took a cab to her home in Zhengzhou.

The driver “started to rough up Jennifer” after a dispute over the taxi fare and her son came to pull him off and push him to the ground, Mitchell was quoted as saying.

About a week later the police took Guthrie McLean to a station and requested about 100,000 yuan (US$14,800) in compensation for the driver’s injuries. They later lowered this to 60,000 yuan, then 50,000 yuan.

UPDATE: Embassy officials visit US student detained in China over row with taxi driver

Mitchell told the South China Morning Post that the Zhengzhou police may not have a “complete picture of what happened” due to communication barriers with the McLeans and not have realised that Guthrie was trying to protect his mother. He added that it seemed “odd” for police to take action weeks after the original incident.

“I do hope this will be resolved quickly so that Guthrie and Jennifer can be reunited,” he said. “I’ve known Guthrie for a long time and he’s a good kid.”

Two senators from Montana, Steve Daines and Jonathan Tester, have been involved in efforts to secure her son’s release, along with staff at the University of Montana, family and friends, according to his mother.

“He is not allowed any contact with anyone so we have no idea what is going on,” McLean said in an email. “We do not know his condition. His friends, professors and family are extremely worried.”

Daines’ office has told McLean they were in touch with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it has communicated to local police that the case was “important to resolve”. The ministry also offered assurances that Guthrie McLean was safe.

US consulate staff were able to visit Guthrie on Thursday, according to a State Department official.

“The Department of State takes seriously its obligation to assist US citizens abroad. We are providing appropriate consular services and will continue to monitor his case,” the official said.

Deaf US teacher a pioneer in Beijing

Guthrie McLean, who has largely grown up in China since 2001, had intended to volunteer at a panda rescue site in Sichuan province this summer. He was due to fly back to the United States on August 29.

His mother described him as a very sweet, caring person who loves animals and wildlife.

Ms McLean previously taught in Beijing and was profiled in 2006 by the state-run China Daily for founding a deaf community development centre in the capital.