Australia and China to meet as Canberra seeks answers over detained writer

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia will press China to address the detention of a dual-national writer “transparently and fairly”, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said, with embassy staff to seek an explanation from Chinese officials at a meeting in Beijing on Thursday.

Yang Hengjun, author and former Chinese diplomat, who is now an Australian citizen, is pictured in an unspecified location in Tibet, China, sometime in Tibet, China, mid-July, 2014 in this social media image obtained by REUTERS

Officials in Canberra confirmed earlier on Thursday that Chinese-Australian Yang Hengjun, an author and former Chinese diplomat who is now an Australian citizen, had been detained shortly after he flew into the southern city of Guangzhou from New York last week.

There has so far been no comment from China about Yang.

“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,” Payne said in an emailed statement.

The meeting will go ahead as Australian Defence Minister Christopher Pyne is due to land in Beijing for previously scheduled talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, and other senior officials.

Tensions between China and some parts of the West have been heightened since 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, a senior Huawei Technologies [HWT.UL] executive, in Canada on Dec. 1. She is accused of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

The Australian government was first alerted that Yang had gone missing after friends said he had not been reachable for several days.

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

Chinese President Xi Jinping has presided over a sweeping crackdown on dissent since coming to power in 2012, with hundreds of rights lawyers and activists detained. Dozens have been jailed.

Reporting by Sonali Paul in MELBOURNE; Additional reporting by Colin Packham in SYDNEY; Editing by Richard Chang and Paul Tait

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