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Author Yang Hengjun attends a lecture at the Beijing Institute of Technology
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Imaginechina/Z. Min

Australia 'disappointed' by China detention

July 19, 2019

Australia has criticized the criminal detention of Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun. Tensions between the two countries are also on the rise over security concerns and the Huawei controversy.


Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Friday that her government was "deeply disappointed" by China's decision to place Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun in criminal detention in Beijing.

Read more: China's police targeting 'lawful' behavior to detain Muslims: report

Yang, a 53-year-old visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York, has been detained since January 19, when he arrived from New York at China's Guangzhou Airport with his wife Yuan Xiaoliang, and his 14-year-old stepdaughter.

"The Australian government is deeply disappointed that Australian citizen and academic Dr. Yang Hengjun ... has been transferred to criminal detention in China," Payne said in a statement.

The minister noted that Canberra had raised Yang's case repeatedly with Beijing at senior levels and written twice to China's foreign minister requesting a "fair and transparent" resolution, as well as access to his lawyer.

"This has not occurred," Payne said. "The government has expressed concern about Dr Yang's welfare and the conditions under which he is held."

'If he is being detained for his political views, then he should be released,' Australian Foreign Minister Payne said
Payne said China should release Yang if he had been detained because of his political viewsImage: Imago/J. Qian

Payne said she had still not received clarification as to why Yang, whose legal name is Yang Jun, was being held. "If he is being detained for his political views, then he should be released," she said.

Although his recent writing has mostly avoided Chinese politics, Yang first became prominent in the early 2000s when he earned the nickname of "democracy peddler."

Payne also stressed that the Australian government expects "basic standards of justice and procedural fairness to be met."

Read more: Anger boils over Xinjiang visit by UN counterterrorism chief

Beijing on Friday hit back and said it "deplores" Payne's remarks. "China... urges the Australian side not to interfere in China's lawful handling of the case in any way and stop issuing irresponsible remarks," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, at a press briefing in Beijing. 

Source of friction

The case has been a source of friction between the two countries, which share a close trading relationship. Tensions between Canberra and Beijing have been on the rise in recent months over security concerns and China's growing clout in the Asia-Pacific region.

Canberra also angered Beijing when it banned Chinese tech giant Huawei from participating in Australia's 5G network last August over security fears.

Yang had previously been held under so-called residential surveillance at a designated location. This can involve being guarded 24-hours a day with lights on continuously, and torture including sleep deprivation, being tied to a chair or forced to stand for hours.

Yang is now suspected of endangering national security — a major crime that includes 19 individual offenses such as spying.

Yang has not been formally charged. He has been moved to a detention center in Beijing, where his case is being investigated, said Mo Shaoping, his Beijing-based lawyer.

China's investigative agency must decide whether to approve his formal arrest. This could happen within 37 days, or the agency could apply for more time, Mo said.

sri/amp (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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