MANILA (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he sought the help of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the case of three UCLA basketball players detained in China on suspicion of shoplifting last week, and said he hoped they could come home soon.
“What they did was unfortunate,” Trump told reporters in Manila. He said the trio could have faced long prison sentences, and described Xi’s response as “terrific”.
“They’re working on it right now.”
Trump had raised the issue with Xi during a dinner held during the U.S. leader’s Nov. 8 to 10 state visit to Beijing. Trump was in the Philippines capital for a summit of Asian leaders.
“We hope everything works out,” Trump said, adding that he hoped the players could come home soon.
Asked about the trio and Trump’s discussing the issue with Xi, China Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing in Beijing: “Until now, I have not received any update, so I am unable to provide any further information”.
He did not elaborate.
The three basketball players from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) were detained by police on Nov. 7 in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou over allegations of shoplifting and were not on the team’s return flight to the United States on Saturday.
According to a senior White House official, the players had so far been given relatively light treatment as a result of Trump’s intervention.
“It’s in large part because the president brought it up,” the official told Reuters.
The UCLA team had been in China for a game against Georgia Tech in Shanghai on Saturday, which UCLA won 63-60. The teams had traveled to Hangzhou earlier in the week to visit the headquarters of the game’s sponsor, Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.
The three students – freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill – were taken in for questioning by police about alleged shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton store during the Hangzhou visit.
They were released early on Wednesday, but are barred from leaving China and confined to a luxury hotel in Hangzhou pending legal proceedings, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Reporting by Steve Holland in Manila; Additional reporting by Philip Wen in BEIJING; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Christian Schmollinger