China has confirmed that it has arrested a Chinese-Australian writer, who was a former diplomat at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, on national security grounds.
Chinese authorities informed the Australian Embassy late on Wednesday that they had detained novelist and political commentator Yang Hengjun, who formerly worked for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Beijing said it had launched a comprehensive probe into the case of the former Chinese diplomat for alleged involvement in activities that threatened China’s national security.
“Beijing state security took compulsory measures against Australian national Yang Jun and are investigating because he is suspected of engaging in criminal activities that endanger China’s national security,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, using Yang’s official name.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs said the two sides had agreed to treat the case as “as a matter of priority,” and that Australian diplomats were “seeking to clarify the nature of this detention and to obtain consular access to him.” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said embassy officials would meet their Chinese counterparts on Thursday to “arrange consular access at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Tensions have been mounting between China and Western countries since the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, on US-filed charges in Canada last month.
Meng’s arrest was followed by the detention of two Canadians working in China. The two Canadian nationals — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and business consultant Michael Spavor — were also arrested in China over national security issues.
A third Canadian national, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who had been arrested in 2014, was also recently sentenced to death for drug smuggling.
Australia has expressed its “concern” over the two Americans’ detention as well as the death sentence handed down to Schellenberg for drug smuggling.