Australia ‘deeply troubled’ by Chinese espionage case

Jan 18, 2023, 9:12 AM | Updated: Jan 19, 2023, 1:29 am
FILE - Cheng Lei, a Chinese-born Australian journalist attends a public event in Beijing on Aug. 12...

FILE - Cheng Lei, a Chinese-born Australian journalist attends a public event in Beijing on Aug. 12, 2020. The 47-rear-old journalist for CGTN, the English-language channel of China Central Television, has been detained in China since August 2019. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

              FILE - This undated, file photo released by Chongyi Feng shows Yang Hengjun, left, and his wife Yuan Xiaoliang. Australia's foreign minister says on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023 that her government is "deeply troubled" by the delays in China resolving espionage allegations against Chinese-Australian Yang Hengjun, while a supporter says the writer and blogger will remain detained until at least April. (Chongyi Feng via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Cheng Lei, a Chinese-born Australian journalist attends a public event in Beijing on Aug. 12, 2020. The 47-rear-old journalist for CGTN, the English-language channel of China Central Television, has been detained in China since August 2019. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s foreign minister said on Thursday her government was “deeply troubled” by the delays in China resolving espionage allegations against Chinese-Australian Yang Hengjun, while a supporter said the Chinese-born writer and blogger would remain detained until at least April.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong raised the issue on the anniversary of Yang’s detention in 2019 when he arrived in southern China’s Guangzhou from New York with his wife and 14-year-old stepdaughter.

Yang faced a closed trial on an espionage charge in Beijing in May 2021 and is still waiting for a verdict.

“The Australian government is deeply troubled by the ongoing delays in his case,” Wong said in a statement.

Australia would continue to advocate for the 57-year-old’s interests and wellbeing “at the highest levels,” she said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin offered no information about Yang’s case when asked about it Thursday, saying only that China had allowed Australian diplomats to meet with him, as is required under international law.

“China urges Australia to earnestly respect China’s judicial sovereignty, refrain from interfering in any form in the handling of cases by Chinese judicial organs in accordance with the law, and take concrete actions to create conditions and an atmosphere for the improvement of bilateral relations,” Wang said at a daily briefing.

Yang’s Sydney-based supporter, Feng Chongyi, confirmed a report in Australia’s Fairfax Media Publications newspapers that the case would not be resolved before April.

The court was recently granted a seventh three-month extension to resolve the case, Feng said.

The Australian government, which was elected in May, should insist that Yang’s case be resolved before it takes further steps toward mending troubled bilateral relations with China, Feng said.

“I hope they will resolve the issue of Yang Hengjun before they normalize trade relations,” Feng said.

“That is my wish, my hope. But I am not confident that they won’t yield to Chinese pressure and commercial interests,” he added.

Chinese-born Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who China accuses of sharing state secrets, would also have to wait until April before there could be any progress in her case, Fairfax reported.

The 47-rear-old journalist for CGTN, the English-language channel of China Central Television, has been detained in China since August 2019.

Feng described the extensions of both cases until April as a coincidence. The cases were not linked, he said.

Cheng’s partner, Nick Coyle, told Fairfax the “continual delays are disappointing.”

Coyle did not immediately respond to the AP’s request for comment.

Supporters of both dual citizens hope that they will be deported to Australia once they are convicted and sentenced.

There are signs that bilateral relations have improved since May when the previous Australian government was voted out of office after nine years in power.

Wong raised the cases of Yang and Cheng with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi last month when she became to first Australian foreign minister to visit China in four years.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also raised their cases in November when he took part in the first formal bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping by an Australian government leader since 2016.

Feng said China had detained Yang as “revenge” against the previous Australian government for passing laws that banned covert foreign interference in domestic politics and for barring Chinese-owned telecommunications giant Huawei from rolling out Australia’s 5G network due to security concerns.

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Australia ‘deeply troubled’ by Chinese espionage case