Tensions intensify . . .
Relations between China and Australia soured on Tuesday after Chinese authorities officially charged Yang Hengjun, a former Chinese diplomat and an Australian citizen, with espionage. He was first arrested last January and has been detained since then. In recent years, Yang had become a prominent pro-democracy academic, blogger, and author, writing on his website, which is now inaccessible. While details of the allegations against Yang remain unreleased, China’s anti-espionage law, which came into effect in 2015, allows for the death penalty in the most extreme cases.
Canberra concerned for citizen’s safety, Beijing urges non-interference . . .
Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she is “very concerned and disappointed" with the arrest, adding "[t]here is no basis for any allegation Dr. Yang was spying for the Australian government.” Minister Payne said Yeng has been held in harsh conditions and denied visits by lawyers and family members. Beijing countered by urging Australia not to interfere in its internal affairs and emphasized that Yang’s case was being handled in accordance with Chinese law. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang stated, “China is a country ruled by law and Australia should … not interfere in the lawful handling of the case by the Chinese side.”
Political prisoners . . .
These developments take place against a backdrop of widespread concern in Australia over Chinese influence throughout the country, including this week’s launch of a federal task force to investigate foreign influence in Australian universities. Canadians are reminded of the plight of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians detained in China following the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in December 2018 on a U.S. extradition warrant. Both Canadians were formally charged in June by Chinese authorities with stealing state secrets and their detentions have been widely condemned by Western countries.
- Global Times: Beijing urges Canberra not to interfere in Chinese-Australian Yang Jun’s espionage case
- South China Morning Post: Australia investigates foreign interference at universities as fears of Chinese influence grow
- Sydney Morning Herald: 'Stop interfering': China hits back at Australia over imprisoned Australian writer