Australian writer detained in Beijing told supporter he was a former Chinese spy

By Kirsty Needham and Cate Cadell

SYDNEY/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Yang Hengjun, an Australian author detained in Beijing and dealing with demo for espionage on behalf of a state China hasn’t publicly named was a previous Chinese spy, in accordance to a confidential letter he wrote to a supporter in 2011.

In the specific letter he wrote to his former teacher, which was reviewed by Reuters, Yang uncovered he experienced worked for China’s Ministry of Condition Security for a decade from 1989, together with in Hong Kong and Washington, prior to transferring to Australia.

The 55-year-previous, who turned a very well-known professional-democracy blogger, faces 10 many years or much more in jail after Chinese authorities charged him with endangering countrywide safety by signing up for or accepting a mission from the unknown espionage organisation, claimed Feng Chongyi, the Sydney-centered liberal scholar who Yang sent the letter to.

Yang has beforehand proclaimed his innocence, indicating final thirty day period: “I will under no circumstances confess to anything I have not performed.”    

Feng unveiled the letter’s information about Yang’s past as a Chinese spy for the initially time, which experienced been rumoured in overseas Chinese dissident circles, as a preemptive transfer to counter possible misinformation at Yang’s demo above spying for yet another region.

Reuters was unable to independently verify Yang’s claim that he spied for China and some other aspects of his letter.

China’s Ministry of Overseas Affairs referred Reuters to a statement it produced on Oct 12, when a spokesman verified Yang experienced been indicted on costs of espionage on Oct 7, and that the very first hearing of the case was underway.

“Appropriate Chinese authorities are managing the scenario in stringent accordance with the law and Yang Jun’s lawful rights are absolutely secured,” spokesman Zhao Lijian stated at the time, referring to his Yang’s legal title.

The Australian govt referred Reuters to Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne’s statement very last week that Australia has noticed no evidence to aid the charge of espionage from Yang.

Yang’s Beijing legal professionals have been forbidden from speaking about the demo to media by Chinese authorities.

The scenario underscores what Yang’s supporters describe as a crackdown on liberal voices in China since 2016 under President Xi Jinping and arrives at a time when diplomatic relations in between Australia and China are previously at a minimal ebb.


Yang produced a solid next on the internet more than a decade ago soon after creating hundreds of articles or blog posts about Chinese, American and Taiwanese politics.

He was to start with detained in China in 2011 by police on suspicion of being an instigator of Beijing’s Jasmine Revolution – brief-lived protests spurred by on the internet democracy activists. He was released just after three days pursuing interventions by the Australian governing administration.

In his May well 2011 letter to Feng, Yang denied he was driving the protests and mentioned he informed law enforcement he labored for the MSS immediately after 1989.

According to his letter, Yang worked for the MSS in Hong Kong from 1992 until eventually the city’s handover from Britain to China in 1997, and then in Washington.

Yang’s address in Hong Kong was at a travel company, though in Washington he worked as a consider-tank researcher, Feng stated, although the letter didn’t refer to these routines. 

China’s international ministry did not promptly respond to a even more request for comment about Yang’s get the job done for MSS in Hong Kong and Washington.

Yang requested the Guangzhou law enforcement interrogating him in 2011 to make contact with the MSS to ensure his id, but also instructed them he did not want permission to produce publicly about Chinese democracy because he had still left the security company years previously.

“I have modified my head and learned a far better way to patriotism. That is to advertise China’s social development and political process reform to attain democratic modernization, not just staying a spy,” he instructed them, according to the letter.

A human being answering the cellular phone at the Guangzhou Municipal Public Safety Bureau on Wednesday said he was unaware of the situation and the business did not straight away answer to a faxed request in search of confirmation of Yang’s detention and questioning in 2011.

Yang experienced give up the MSS when he migrated to Australia in 1999 to adhere to his family members, and turned an Australian citizen in 2002, stated Feng, who supervised Yang’s PhD reports at Sydney’s College of Technological innovation in 2006.

SPY Tales

Yang invested the next 4 many years writing spy novels.

The 3 novels, posted in Taiwan, are about a double agent, also surnamed Yang. In his 2004 novel, Finishing Stroke, the CIA director, U.S. president and Taiwan’s president are embroiled in a plot line about tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

Throughout his 2011 detention, police experienced demanded to know how Yang could compose the novels devoid of divulging point out secrets, according to Yang’s composed account.

“I know the boundary involving appreciate of region and treason,” he replied, in accordance to the 13-web page letter.

In addition to the letter, another resource confirmed he advised close mates of his MSS background soon after his 2011 detention.

Following his 3 day detention in 2011, he was detained yet again by police moving into China from New York in January 2019.  


Feng explained he thought Yang’s detention was connected to a nationwide law enforcement crackdown on “overseas interference” documented by point out media in the exact same thirty day period.

“In 2019, he was suspected of becoming a man or woman with the opportunity of organising Color Revolution,” explained Feng, referring to professional-democracy protest actions often connected by critics to U.S. or Western pursuits, with out giving much more details.

China’s foreign ministry did not answer to requests for comment on the facts of Yang’s arrest.

Yang was dwelling in New York in 2019 as a checking out scholar at Columbia College who supplemented his earnings by doing work as a “daigou” or online purchasing agent for Chinese people wanting American products.

“Yang Hengjun is currently being punished for his publications criticising human rights abuses and other malpractice of the (Chinese Communist Celebration) in China, and for advertising and marketing China’s transition to introducing democracy,” explained Feng, who was himself detained by safety law enforcement in Guangzhou in 2017.


The Australian federal government has elevated major issues about Yang’s procedure in the course of his 21 months in detention, stating he had been shackled at periods very last 12 months, interrogated for extended durations, with restricted accessibility to attorneys and unable to see his spouse. She is only allowed to go a message to her partner by consular officers on a narrow range of topics.

Yang’s wife Yuan Xiaoliang, who spoke to Reuters in Shanghai about their connection but not Yang’s case or his MSS past, explained Yang would not betray his family members and viewers in China.

She also expressed problem for her husband’s wellbeing, noting he experienced shed pounds and that Australian consular officers who visited him past yr informed her they noticed he was shaking as he walked whilst in detention.

“I the moment hoped that they would enable him go. But now it appears to be impossible,” reported Yuan, who has been granted a long-lasting resident visa by Australia, but is prevented by authorities from leaving China. “I am anxious that he will not be capable to survive.”

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney and Cate Cadell in Shanghai Modifying by Lincoln Feast)

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