A Chinese-Australian writer who went missing after arriving at Guangzhou airport last week has been detained by Chinese authorities, according to the Australian embassy in Beijing.
- Yang Hengjun’s friends say he was taken away by Chinese state police last week
- The writer has not been heard from or used social media since
- His detention comes as Defence Minister Christopher Pyne prepares to visit Beijing
Chinese authorities informed the embassy that they had detained prominent blogger and outspoken political commentator Yang Hengjun, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said in a statement released on Wednesday.
Australian officials have not yet been able to meet with the 53-year-old, according to DFAT.
“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 statement said.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman had earlier told a regular press conference that she was unaware of the case.
Mr Yang, who once worked for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and later became an Australian citizen, has not been heard from in nearly a week.
Feng Chongyi, a professor at the University of Technology Sydney, told the ABC Mr Yang was taken away by 10 state security police after arriving in Guangzhou from New York.
The ABC has not be able to independently verify the claim.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne confirmed the Australian embassy in Beijing had been informed of Mr Yang’s detention.
“The Chinese authorities gave formal notification to our embassy in Beijing last night that they have detained Mr Yang Hengjun, an Australian citizen,” she said in a statement.
“We will continue to make representations to China to ensure that this matter is dealt with transparently and fairly.
“Our embassy in Beijing will meet with Chinese authorities this morning to seek further clarification of the nature of this detention and to arrange consular access at the earliest possible opportunity, in accordance with the bilateral consular agreement.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told ABC News Breakfast the situation was concerning.
“You can’t sugar-coat this. This is an Australian citizen who has been detained in China. The embassy has just been notified,” he said.
“I’m very supportive of all efforts to reach out to him, to get to the bottom of what happened. What is happening. But it is very concerning. I can’t pretend otherwise.”
Mr Shorten said it was disappointing that Australian officials had not been able to have access to Mr Yang while he had been in detention.
“It is disappointing, it’s not the way the arrangements are meant to work,” he said.
“Now, I don’t want to do any megaphone diplomacy. We’ve got an Australian citizen who has been detained in circumstances we’re unaware of, and it’s been a slow response from the Chinese Government to talk to the Australian Government.
“This is not the way which relations between our two countries should be conducted at all.”
In a statement, Greens leader Richard Di Natale said the detention of Mr Yang was a human rights violation.
“I expect to hear senior members of the Australian Government, including Defence Minister Christopher Pyne, who is currently in Beijing, loudly calling for his immediate release, and calling for an end to China’s practice of imprisoning activists and reformists,” he said.
Detention comes as minister visits Beijing
Mr Yang, who has been living in New York, has also been absent from Twitter, where he has more than 130,000 followers.
In 2011, he disappeared for more than two days after claiming he was being followed at an airport in Guangzhou, before resurfacing.
Mr Yang, who also writes spy novels, has apparently been keeping a low profile since moving to the United States.
PEN America, a non-profit literary organisation that advocates for free speech, called for his immediate release.
“It’s obvious that Yang would not have been seized if it weren’t for his previous critical writings,” said Summer Lopez, senior director of Free Expression Programs.
Mr Yang’s detention comes as Christopher Pyne visits Beijing today, the first Australian defence minister to travel to China in several years.
Tensions have been mounting between China and Western nations since the arrest of a Huawei executive in Canada last month, which was followed by the detention of two Canadians working in China.
Australia has expressed its “concern” over the pair’s detention as well as the death sentence imposed on a third Canadian for drug smuggling.
Beijing has reacted angrily to the criticism.
By Holly Robertson