The US State Department has confirmed that its diplomats were unable to meet with Hong Kong journalist and US citizen Wang Jianmin, who was jailed by a Chinese court this week after his arrest two years ago.

Spokesperson John Kirby said at a daily press briefing that the State Department has “repeatedly” asked Chinese officials for permission to visit Wang – also known as James Wang – since his arrest on May 31, 2014. The department has also asked to attend his trial, which took place in November.

“Those requests have all been denied,” said Kirby. “We’re going to continue to request access to Mr. Wang so that we may provide the appropriate consular services.”

Wang Jianmin
Wang Jianmin. File

Wang, 62, was accused of running an illegal business in China. Two magazines that he founded and published in Hong Kong were sent to eight readers on the mainland and earned profit, the Shenzhen court found. The magazines often reported the internal political struggles of the Chinese Communist Party.

The court also found Wang guilty of two other charges: bid-rigging and bribery. He was given a jail sentence on Tuesday of five years and three months, along with a fine of 200,000 yuan (HK$233,059).

Guo Zhongxiao, 41, the chief editor for the two magazines, was sentenced to jail for two years and three months and fined 50,000 yuan (HK$58,265).

Their lawyer argued during the November trial that the business involved less than 150,000 yuan (HK$174,327), the minimum amount required for the illegal business offence, and that they had not seriously disrupted the market, another requirement for the offence.

Multiple Face New-Way Monthly
Multiple Face and New-Way Monthly magazines. Photo: Twitter.

Both Wang and Guo were originally from the mainland but became Hong Kong permanent residents. Wang is also a naturalised US citizen.

Chen Nansha, Wang’s lawyer, was cited by the New York Times as saying that Wang entered China from Hong Kong using local travel documents and not his American passport.

American citizens who do not use their US passports to enter China cannot receive consular protection in the country, according to the US State Department’s website.

The sentencing came after a Hong Kong publisher was convicted in 2014 for “smuggling ordinary goods” after planning to publish a book on Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and the Causeway Bay Books incident, in which five booksellers went missing before reappearing on the mainland “confessing” to running an illegal business.

The League of Social Democrats marched to the China Liaison Office in Sai Wan on Thursday morning in support of Wang and Guo.

Along the way, they chanted that Hong Kong should have press freedom and demanded the release of the pair.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.