Australia confirms China detained an Australian citizen in Guangzhou airport 6 days ago

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  • Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has confirmed that an Australian-Chinese national was detained in China over the weekend.
  • “The department is seeking to clarify the nature of this detention and to obtain consular access to him, in accordance with the bilateral consular agreement, as a matter of priority,” DFAT finally confirmed in a statement on Thursday.
  • Australian media believes the Australian citizen and author Yang Heneghan was detained in Guangdong province after disappearing in transit through Guangzhou from New York on Saturday.
  • Fairfax media says Yang was taken away “by 10 security agents” at Guangzhou airport shortly after arriving, Fairfax reports, citing an unnamed witness to the events.
  • The Australian reports that Chinese officials say they know nothing of the whereabouts of the Chinese-Australian author.
  • Yang’s disappearance coincides with a key Australian defence meeting in Beijing and as China escalates its rhetoric regarding the detention and coming extradition of a top Huawei executive in Canada on behalf of the US.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it received confirmation late on Wednesday that the dissident blogger, Australian citizen Yang Hengjun has been detained in China.

“The department is seeking to clarify the nature of this detention and to obtain consular access to him, in accordance with the bilateral consular agreement, as a matter of priority,” the department confirmed on Thursday morning.

Fairfax media has confirmed that the author was taken away by Chinese authorities over the weekend.

Yang was reportedly detained “by 10 security agents” at Guangzhou airport shortly after arriving, Fairfax reports.

However, The Australian reports that Chinese officials say they know nothing of the whereabouts of the Chinese-Australian author whose friends have feared his detention by Beijing’s security services, even before he left New York last week.

The disappearance of the novelist and sometime-critic of Chinese politics is certain to cast a pall over a key meeting for Australia’s Defence Minister Christopher Pyne who will arrive in China on Thursday.

Australia has joined allies Canada and the US in voicing its concern for perceived Chinese hostage diplomacy after a Canadian was sentenced to death in Dalian last week, following the arrest and detention of high-profile Canadian sinophiles Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.

Those arrests have been widely viewed as retaliation against Ottawa’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the behest of US authorities.

Business Insider on Wednesday reported China’s anger at learning the US will start looking to make a formal extradition request to Canada within the week, as US law-enforcement pursues the top Huawei executive for breaching American sanctions on Iran.

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.

Yang, Fairfax reports, left his base in New York for the Cantonese metropolis Guangzhou on January 18 a few hours across the border from Hong Kong.

He reportedly ignored the warnings of friends, although the recent experiences of one in particular the Australian-Chinese academic, Dr Feng Chongyi of The University of Technology in Sydney must have been very fresh in his mind.

What happened to Feng in Guangzhou, as told in exquisite detail to Dr Graeme Smith and former BBC China correspondent Louisa Lim in their Little Red Podcast, should have been caution enough for any formerly Chinese public intellectual with alternative views on the direction of the Chinese state.

Regardless, Yang supposedly landed in Guangzhou on January 19, and never left.

Fairfax suggests that his rapid arrest implies Yang was “on a list and authorities were prepared to strike” should he take the risk and set foot on Chinese soil.

Neither the Chinese nor Australian government has yet provided official confirmation of the detention, although Australian officials have been seeking information about Yang since he was reported missing.

On Wednesday evening, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she was not aware of Yang’s status.

“I am not aware of the situation about this Mr Yang and I can’t tell you whether it will be a topic of discussion between the two sides,” she said when asked at a regular press briefing if it was likely to be discussed when Pyne arrives in Beijing for talks on Thursday.

Feng told News Ltd that Chinese officials took Yang and his wife to Beijing, after being permitted to drop her child in Shanghai.

“My judgment is they were interrogated by (authorities) in Guangzhou airport for 12 hours and reached some sort of agreement that his wife was allowed to send the child back to family in Shanghai but required to join Yang Jun in Beijing.”

The Australia-China bilateral consular agreement requires that either government be informed within a three day window if one of their citizens has been detained. Diplomats are also entitled to communicate with and visit the person.

Yang, an Australian citizen since 2002, is a popular Mandarin language blogger, fiction writer and a relatively outspoken democratic enthusiast.

In President Xi Jinping’s China that can be enough of a rap sheet to warrant some official attention.

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