Australia Seeks Info About Dual Citizen Missing in China

A police officer in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

A police officer in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

Friend and colleague Chongyi Feng told AFP he believes Yang is being charged with "espionage" although a Chinese official at a press briefing on Thursday said that the Chinese-Australian detained in China was suspected of engaging in "criminal activities that endanger China's national security".

Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Yang's rights and interests were being protected in accordance with Chinese law.

Such charges are extremely vague and frequently leveled at critics of the ruling Communist Party, with little hard evidence provided in support.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Chinese authorities notified the Australian Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday night that they had detained Yang.

Novelist and influential online commentator Yang Hengjun was a Chinese diplomat before he became an Australian citizen.

"General Wei assured Minister Pyne that, while he was not personally aware of the case, Mr Yang would be treated well and that the General would seek further information", Mr Pyne said in a statement.

Yang boarded a flight from NY to the southeastern Chinese city of Guangzhou and was scheduled to arrive at 5 a.m. on Saturday, Feng Chongyi, an associate professor in China studies at the University of Technology Sydney, told Bloomberg News earlier on Wednesday.

Supporters say Yang has been an outspoken writer who has been a thorn in the government's side for more than a decade.

Payne said the government would be concerned if the detention was related to China's arrest of two Canadians last month or her government's decision in August to block Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from rolling out Australia's 5G network due to security concerns.

He was expected to raise the issue of Dr Yang during the meetings. Yang was taken into custody at Guangzhou airport and flown to Beijing, while his wife and child were allowed to fly on to Shanghai as planned, Feng said. He has criticised what he described as Chinese interference in Australia.

However, the disappearance in transit of Yang is less likely to be a direct Chinese response to the latest developments across the Atlantic and more the continuation of a recent theme for Chinese authorities instructed to shakedown strong alternate voices in the Chinese intellectual diaspora.

"We will continue to make representations to China to ensure that this matter is dealt with transparently and fairly", the department said.

China is using tech advances to repress its people — George Soros
He said China can reach a target of delivering "modest prosperity" for all Chinese people by 2020. He said this scenario presented an "unprecedented danger".

"I think Canada is being used as a guinea pig", he said.

Mr Yang is believed to have been travelling with his wife, Chinese national Yuan Rui Juan, and young stepson.

Feng, who has been in contact with Yang's family and friends, said Yang's detention was "directly linked to the Huawei case". Yang had argued that he was safe because he had flown to China several times since taking the university job in NY in 2016.

"I'm very supportive of all efforts to reach out to him, to get to the bottom of what happened, what is happening", he said.

Professor Feng was detained in China in 2017 near the end of a three-week trip during which he was researching human rights lawyers.

Consular agreements between the two countries stipulate that either government must be informed within three days if a citizen is detained and consular access should be granted soon after.

"It will need to respectfully protect its citizens", said Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University.

Later on Thursday, Pyne said Yang is in "residential" detention in Beijing. "I think rather it's a signal that we're now - not only Australia, but really all democracies, all middle powers - are in for a period of sustained tension with China where the safety of our nationals in China simply can not be assured".

In the U.S., Yang has been working as a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

"It's obvious that Yang would not have been seized if it weren't for his previous critical writings", spokeswoman Summer Lopez said.

McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia.

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