Australia seeks info on missing writer in China

Mr Yang Hengjun in an unknown location in Tibet. He went missing shortly after he returned to the southern city of Guangzhou last week.
Mr Yang Hengjun in an unknown location in Tibet. He went missing shortly after he returned to the southern city of Guangzhou last week.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY • Australia is investigating the whereabouts of one of its citizens, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said yesterday, after a newspaper report raised fears that the former Chinese diplomat had been detained in China.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported yesterday that friends feared Mr Yang Hengjun, an author and former Chinese envoy who is now an Australian citizen, had been detained because he had not been reachable for several days.

His disappearance comes at a time of high tension between China and some parts of the West after two Canadians, a diplomat on unpaid leave and a consultant, were arrested in China on suspicion of endangering state security.

Those arrests were widely seen in the West as retaliation by Beijing for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei Technologies' chief financial officer, in Canada on Dec 1. She is accused of violating US sanctions on Iran.

Two friends contacted by Reuters said they had reported Mr Yang as missing to DFAT. They said he was supposed to fly from New York to Guangzhou in southern China last Friday.

One of those friends, Mr Feng Chongyi, an academic at the University of Technology in Sydney, said Mr Yang had been scheduled to fly on to Shanghai but never arrived.

"I believe he is under the custody of the Ministry of State Security in Beijing," Mr Feng said.


China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying, asked about Mr Yang's disappearance, told a regular briefing that she "did not know" about his situation and "needs to get more information from the relevant departments".

China's Ministry of Public Security did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

A DFAT spokesman confirmed the department was investigating but did not identify Mr Yang by name.

"The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is seeking information about an Australian citizen who has been reported missing in China," the spokesman said.

A source familiar with the investigation said Australia made contact with Chinese officials overnight to ask about Mr Yang's whereabouts.

Australia joined international condemnation of the arrest of the two Canadians, but Mr Yang has long been in the sights of the Chinese authorities. He has criticised what he described as Chinese interference in Australia.

Mr Yang had worked in the ministry of foreign affairs in Hainan province, but later left for Hong Kong in 1992 and the US in 1997, where he worked for the Atlantic Council think-tank.

He later took up Australian citizenship - although Beijing does not recognise dual nationality - and wrote a series of spy novels and a popular Chinese-language blog.

Once described as China's "most influential political blogger", Mr Yang went missing before in 2011, describing his disappearance as a "misunderstanding" when he resurfaced days later.

Tensions have also been strained between China and Australia in recent months. Australia banned Huawei from participating in its 5G network in August over security fears. The United States and New Zealand have taken similar steps against the telco.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2019, with the headline 'Australia seeks info on missing writer in China'. Print Edition | Subscribe