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Australian-Chinese author’s detention raises important questions about China’s motivations

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25.01.2019

The arrest of an Australian-Chinese citizen in China for unspecified reasons is the last thing Australia needs at a sensitive moment in the reset of a relationship that has chilled over the past two years.

But whether it likes it or not, Canberra is being drawn into a broader controversy over China’s detention of foreign nationals on grounds that are opaque and at the mercy of an unpredictable Chinese justice system.

The arrest last weekend of author and diplomat Yang Hengjun raises the question of whether he has become part of a pattern of retaliatory measures by a Chinese government that finds itself under stress from within and without.

Read more: Huawei executive's arrest will further test an already shaky US-China relationship

At this stage it has not been revealed why Yang, a critic of China’s Communist Party, has been detained. On a previous visit to China in 2011 he was arrested and released without charge. He described that episode as a “misunderstanding”.

What should concern Australian officials is that Yang will find himself lumped with other foreign nationals from countries that may have displeased China and therefore become hostages to a wider diplomatic game.

Beijing’s initially muted response to Australia’s decision to exclude, on security grounds, the Chinese technology behemoth Huawei from building its 5G network may have disguised more intense displeasure.

In the case of the arrest late last year of two Canadian nationals on accusations of “endangering national security”, it is hard to place any other interpretation on their detention than that they are........

© The Conversation