BEIJING/SYDNEY • The Chinese authorities are holding an Australian writer, who used to be a Chinese citizen, on suspicion of endangering state security, China said yesterday, and his lawyer said he was suspected of espionage.
Australian officials said Mr Yang Hengjun was detained shortly after he flew in to the southern city of Guangzhou from New York last week, but they did not believe his detention was the result of rising tension between China and the West.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokes-man Hua Chunying said Australia was officially notified after Mr Yang was placed under "coercive measures" - a euphemism for detention - in Beijing.
"The Australian citizen Yang Jun, due to being suspected of engaging in criminal acts that endangered China's national security, was recently placed under coercive measures and is being investigated by the Beijing city State Security Bureau," Ms Hua told reporters, using a slightly different name for him.
Mr Yang's rights and interests were being protected in accordance with the law, she told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
Australian Defence Minister Christopher Pyne, who arrived in Beijing yesterday for scheduled talks, said Australia would normally expect to be told of such a case within three days under existing diplomatic conventions.
Mr Yang went missing last Friday, and Australia was not told until four days later.
Mr Pyne said the late notification was disappointing, and he would be raising it in his talks with Chinese officials. "He is being held in residential surveillance," Mr Pyne told reporters.
The Australian government was first alerted that Mr Yang had gone missing after friends said he had been out of contact for several days.
Mr Yang was previously a Chinese foreign affairs official in Beijing before becoming an Australian citizen and a novelist, The Australian newspaper said on Wednesday.
Mr Yang's lawyer, Mr Mo Shaoping, told Reuters that his client was suspected of espionage and was being held under "residential surveillance at a designated location".
The special detention measure allows the authorities to interrogate suspects for six months without necessarily granting access to legal representation. Rights groups say that the lack of oversight raises concern about abuse by interrogators.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said staff from the Australian Embassy met Chinese officials yesterday and, while details were limited, she said there was no evidence Mr Yang's case was linked to Australia's criticism of China's detention of two Canadians on suspicion of endangering state security.