Australia Must Respond to China’s Political Prosecution of Australian Citizen Yang Hengjun

27 August 2019

The Chinese Communist Government’s action in charging Australian writer Yang Hengjun with espionage constitutes a very negative turn in China’s relations with Australia and a major failure of Australian diplomacy, South Australian Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick said today. 

"A robust response is required from the Australian Government and Australian citizens should be properly warned of the risks of arbitrary detention and political prosecution when visiting China."

"There can be no doubt that the still unspecified espionage charges brought against Dr Yang, an Australian citizen, are a political action, designed by the Chinese Government to intimidate members of the Chinese Australian community and to send a blunt political message to the Australian Government."

Dr Yang was arrested in February and has been held in arbitrary detention, largely incommunicado, by China’s Ministry of State Security. Despite evidence of Mr Yang’s deteriorating circumstances, the Australian Government has adopted a very low-key approach to his case, anxious not to upset Australia’s diplomatic relations with Beijing.

"It now looks like Australia’s diplomats have hit a Chinese brick wall," Senator Patrick said.

"In these circumstances Australia needs to adopt a much more robust approach and raise this matter at the highest levels of the Chinese Government. We need to make it clear to Beijing that the arbitrary arrest and detention of an Australian citizen, and the bringing of the essentially political charge of espionage against him, is utterly unacceptable."

"Dr Yang clearly attracted the attention of the Chinese political police as a consequence of his articles promoting the rule of law, democracy and human rights. However his detention and prosecution must also be seen in the context of China’s increasingly combative approach to Western nations, including Australia."

"In these circumstances the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should follow the actions of the US Department of State and Global Affairs Canada and upgrade their travel advice on China to include a warning to Australian travellers to exercise “a high degree of caution” when visiting China and be aware of the significant risk of arbitrary arrest and detention for political reasons." 

"The Australian Government’s reluctance to take this step is a significant failure of its consular duties in relation to Australian citizens visiting China." 

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