“This has been a long, difficult and painful, painful ordeal for Xue Feng.” Jon Huntsman, U.S. Ambassador to China.

A Chinese appeals court Friday upheld the eight-year prison sentence given to an American geologist for obtaining information on China’s oil industry.

Immediately after the hearing, the U.S. Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, deplored the decision and called for the immediate release of Xue Feng.

Ambassador Huntsman questioned the charges against the geologist as he addressed reporters outside the Beijing High People’s Court.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the outcome, although it wasn’t completely unexpected,” he said. “The original sentence was upheld, that of eight years in prison and a 200,000 renminbi fine. This has been a long, difficult and painful, painful ordeal for Xue Feng, but not only for Xue but also for his wife Nan and his two kids, Rachel and Alex.”

Xue is a 46-year-old geologist, who was born in China but now is a U.S. citizen. He has spent three years in custody and was sentenced last July on charges of obtaining Chinese state secrets.

The charges relate to his negotiations to buy an oil industry database for his employer, a U.S. energy company. Xue’s defenders say the database was classified as a state secret only after he obtained it.

Many business people and rights activists say Xue’s case shows China’s use of vague state secrets laws to protect business interests. The government often classifies as secret information that most governments make public, such as economic figures.

The case has put further strains on the relationship between Washington and Beijing, which already are troubled by trade and diplomatic disagreements.

Members of Congress confronted President Hu Jintao about Xue during his state visit to the United States last month. The Obama administration has hoped he would be freed and deported back to the U.S.

Huntsman – who is soon to step down from his Beijing post – said outside the court that Xue had mentally prepared himself for the appeal to fail.

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