SYDNEY: A well-known writer and former Chinese official with Australian citizenship flew from New York to China on Friday despite warnings from friends who told him that it was too dangerous.
Then, to their consternation, writer Yang Hengjun seemed to disappear. Late Wednesday, the Australian government confirmed that he had been detained by Chinese authorities.
Deng Yuwen, a Chinese journalist and current affairs commentator who knows Yang, said that he vanished shortly after landing in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.
“We don’t know what Yang Hengjun did that would prompt the Chinese government to detain him,” Deng said by telephone from New York. “In recent years, he’s been very low-key and hasn’t published anything that could be construed as anti-government.”
On Wednesday, Chinese authorities told the Australian Embassy in Beijing that they were holding Yang, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement. “As a matter of priority,” it said, Australian diplomats were “seeking to clarify the nature of this detention and to obtain consular access to him.”
A spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry said she had no information about the case. US officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Yang had been taken into custody before, in 2011, but his detention now carries additional risk.
Yang, 53, a novelist and commentator who worked for the Chinese foreign ministry before moving to Australia and becoming a citizen in 2000, has spent the past two years with his family in New York, where he works as a visiting scholar at Columbia University.
In his writing, he has been critical of the Chinese government. But in recent years, he has eschewed interviews with the news media and avoided outright opposition to the Communist Party.
In December, he retweeted one of his earlier articles about rule of law in China, which said: “I have faith in the future, but without today’s endeavours and sacrifices, the future will never come. For people like me, the goal, the dream is for the future to arrive earlier.”