Tue, Apr 09, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Beijing targeted two Australian-based authors over Canberra inquiry: report

AFP, SYDNEY

Beijing agents pressured two Chinese-Australian authors to provide information about a secret Canberra inquiry into Chinese meddling in domestic politics, local media reported yesterday.

Yang Jun (楊俊), a novelist and democracy advocate, and Feng Chongyi (馮崇義), a Sydney-based university professor and former newspaper publisher, were reportedly interrogated over the classified probe.

They are both friends of John Garnaut, a former journalist who was heading up the inquiry.

A joint investigation published yesterday by the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) found that China had waged an intelligence operation to gain details of the probe ordered in 2016 by then-Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

At a news briefing yesterday, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang (陸慷) said his nation was opposed to interference in other countries’ affairs.

“China has always insisted on mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty, and mutual non-interference in internal affairs,” Lu said, adding that Beijing did not know the latest on Yang’s case.

Yang, a naturalized Australian citizen whose pen name is Yang Hengjun (楊恆鈞), has been detained in China since traveling there in January, accused of endangering state security.

Yesterday’s report coincided with a plea from his wife for Australia to do more to secure his release.

Australian media have reported that Yang was a former Chinese diplomat, although that has been denied by Beijing.

The ABC report said that last year, Chinese agents had intercepted and questioned Yang in Sydney when he was on his way to meet with Garnaut.

Garnaut told ABC that a Chinese official asked Yang “about me ... what I was doing, what I was working on.”

Yang’s wife, Yuan Xiaoliang, has been banned from leaving China, but she spoke to ABC from Shanghai to urge Australia to help free her husband.

“I think at least the Australian government officials should care for its citizens’ well-being when they are overseas, should show their concern,” she was quoted as saying.

Feng, a permanent Australian resident, told ABC that he was questioned about Garnaut when he was detained for several days during a trip to China in 2017.

“They knew a lot about him [Garnaut]. During the interrogation, they did not hide that they were angry with him,” Feng said.

Australian lawmaker Andrew Hastie, who chairs the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, told the ABC that the government has had “multiple briefings” from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and other agencies that “foreign interference is being conducted in Australia at an unprecedented level.”

“There are several authoritarian states who are involved in foreign influence across the globe, but in Australia, the Chinese Communist Party is probably the most active,” he said. “China is seeking to influence our elites, particularly our political and business elites, to achieve their strategic objectives.”

The inquiry led Australia to pass sweeping reforms to espionage and foreign-interference laws, with China singled out as a focus of concern.

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