Australia Seeks Answers and Access After Writer’s Detention in China

BEIJING — The Australian government said on Thursday that it was pressing China to let consular officials visit a Chinese-Australian writer who was detained last week, and to explain why China took longer to notify Australia of his detention than an agreement between the countries allows.

The writer, Yang Hengjun, arrived in the southern city of Guangzhou on Friday on a flight from New York, despite warnings from friends about the risks of returning to China at a tense time. Officers took him away before he and his wife and child could catch a connecting flight to Shanghai, according to friends of Mr. Yang who spoke to his family.

The Australian government confirmed on Wednesday that Mr. Yang, 53, had been detained. But the Chinese government has not explained why he was being held, and the Australian minister for foreign affairs, Marise Payne, said in Sydney that she was seeking “further clarification from the Chinese authorities as a priority.”

“We have requested and we do expect consular access at the earliest possible opportunity in accordance with the bilateral consular agreement,” Ms. Payne told a news conference in Sydney.

Christopher Pyne, the Australian defense minister, who was in Beijing for previously scheduled talks on Thursday, told Australian reporters there that Mr. Yang was being held in Beijing under “residential surveillance” — a kind of detention that can be in a home, hotel or other informal site.

“There have been meetings between the Australian government and the Chinese government to talk about the situation with Mr. Yang,” Mr. Pyne said. “But as yet he is not being provided with consular support.”

Mr. Pyne also said that it took four days for the Chinese government to notify Australia of Mr. Yang’s detention, a day longer than required under rules agreed upon by the two governments.

Image
Yang Hengjun

“Obviously that is disappointing,” Mr. Pyne said. “We will be raising that, too, with government officials.”

Mr. Yang’s case follows the detention of two Canadians in China last month, which have already ignited international criticism about China’s increasingly heavy-handed use of the law against foreign nationals.

The Canadians — Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat turned policy analyst, and Michael Spavor, a businessman — were detained less than two weeks after the Canadian police arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, China’s biggest telecommunication equipment company.

Ms. Meng is on bail in Vancouver, facing a likely court contest over whether she can be extradited to the United States, where prosecutors have laid out charges that she took part in fraudulent bank transactions for deals that violated United States sanctions on Iran. Supporters of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor have said that the Chinese authorities appeared to have engineered their arrests to put pressure on Canada to let Ms. Meng return to China.

It is less clear, though, whether Mr. Yang’s arrest is related to broader tensions between China and Australia.

In recent years, Australia has become more wary of Chinese political and military influence, passing a sweeping new espionage bill last year to counter foreign interference, even as Australia’s economy has benefited from China’s enormous appetite for raw materials and agricultural goods. And last year, Australia said that Huawei could not take part in a planned rollout of 5G, the next generation of mobile phone networks.

But Ms. Payne, the foreign minister, said she saw no evidence that Mr. Yang’s detention was connected to the arrests of the Canadians or to Australia’s decision on Huawei.

“I don’t believe there’s currently any evidence of such a connection,” she said. “If there were one, I would be concerned.”

Mr. Yang, who worked for the Chinese foreign ministry before setting out on his own as a novelist and commentator, became an Australian citizen in 2002. After migrating, he remained an influential voice in China with a large internet following. He has spent the past two years with his family in New York, where he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*