53 year-old Australian–Chinese writer Yang Hengjun has been charged with espionage for supposedly ‘engaging in criminal activities endangering China’s national security’.
Yang, who was a Chinese diplomat before becoming an Australian citizen almost 20 years ago, sits in ‘residential detention’ somewhere in Beijing, and is yet to be granted consular access.
But our very own Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie thinks this is all an act of coercion, where China is trying to use this spy-novel writer as a way to deter citizens from speaking out against the Communist Party.
Hastie believes this detainment of who he deems as a ‘courageous public intellectual’ has created ‘uncertainty in our friendship with China’.
Hua Chunying, the spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, didn’t offer any more details on the case at a news briefing on Thursday, as AAP reports.
Yang stopped at airport and put under surveillance
Currently a visiting academic at Columbia University in the US, Yang and his family left the US for Guangzhou, China, on 18 January. Once there, Yang was not allowed to board his connecting flight to Shanghai, and was instead put under ‘residential surveillance’.
This is not the first concerning experience Yang has had at an airport. In 2011, Yang called a friend from a Chinese terminal, worried that he was being followed by three men. But this was later claimed to be a ‘misunderstanding’.
As for the current case, China have insisted it is ‘being handled according to law, and Yang Hengjun’s legitimate rights and interests have been fully guaranteed,’ spokeswoman Hua said.
But Australia isn’t entirely convinced that this will occur.
As AAP reports, Defence Minister Christopher Pyne is troubled by the fact that Yang is yet to have access to consular assistance. And no one personally aware of the case has given Pyne a direct confirmation.
What’s more, any Australia–China consular agreement requires either government to be informed within three days of a citizen being detained. Canberra was alerted of Yang’s detainment after four days.
‘Obviously that is disappointing and we will be raising that too with Chinese government officials,’ Mr Pyne said.
Hastie doesn’t trust China’s intentions
Liberal Andrew Hastie is even more distressed by this case, believing China has more sinister motives behind keeping Yang:
‘It is possible that his arbitrary detention was designed to deter members of the Australian Chinese diaspora from talking openly and honestly about political questions near to their hearts.
‘It is also possible that this is an act of Chinese statecraft designed to serve Chinese interests in a larger geopolitical landscape.’
As for the inability of Australia to gain any further information from investigating, Hastie isn’t surprised:
‘It is a worrying trend when it appears that the principles of transparency, accountability and rule of law are traded cheaply for strategic leverage.
‘There is only one way to make this right: Dr Yang needs to reappear on an Australia-bound aircraft in the next few days.’
We at The Australian Tribune think this solution makes the most sense.
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