A Chinese-Australian novelist who is being detained in Beijing has apologised for lying that he had not been arrested in China eight years earlier.
Yang Hengjun is pleading for forgiveness because he kept a March 2011 arrest by the Chinese authorities a secret at the time. In a secret letter that he left with a friend, to be released if he was detained again, Yang asked supporters to not place themselves at risk to free him but just to continue with his work. Yang is known for his writings promoting the democratisation of China, as well as freedom, human rights, and the rule of law and justice.
“Maintain belief in China’s democratic future and, when it doesn’t put yourself or your family at risk, to use all your means to push China’s democratic development to happen sooner,” Yang said in the secret letter that was released online on Jan. 28, eight days after Yang is thought to have been detained at Guangzhou airport.
“If I can come out, I will continue my work. If I cannot come out or disappear again, remember my articles and let your children read them,” Yang wrote.
Earlier Detention Raises Espionage Fears
After Yang was released by the Chinese authorities in 2011, he told those who had been concerned about him that there had been a misunderstanding and that he had not been detained; his mobile phone had just been turned off. However, his explanation raised suspicions among some Chinese dissidents and critics of the Chinese Communist Party who thought Yang may have been on a visit as a spy for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“This has much to do with the Chinese media, because the democracy activists around the world still publish rumours that in 2011 he was not taken away or he actually is a communist spy and went back to China to arrange a new job or got that money to go back again in order to strengthen his position in overseas Chinese secret service,” Associate Professor in China Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney, Dr. Feng Chongyi, told The Australian.
Yang’s letter says that he chose not to reveal that he had been detained at the time in order to be able to return to China and continue writing articles about democratisation in China using his own money.
“I think that to deal with such a government, everyone must first learn to protect themselves,” he said. “I choose to ‘lie’ and let myself be insulted (in order to continue to be) able to do the things which I think right. Can you forgive me?”
Yang’s Secret Letter
Feng helped in efforts to free Yang back in 2011, and was instructed by Yang to release the secret letter only if he was ever detained again. He confirmed to local Australian media that the CCP released Yang on the condition that he never spoke about his detention.
Feng explained that Yang’s decision to write the letter suggests he had expected for more than seven years to be arrested arbitrarily by the CCP again.
“If I came out and said ‘the truth’, the authorities concerned would have been intolerable for a while. However, I can no longer return to China anyway, and can no longer continue to spread the tenets of freedom and democracy—which I was already doing with some scope,” Yang wrote. “I really believe that in China, spreading the philosophy [of democracy] is a vital task. I will definitely continue to use my methods to contribute to China’s democracy.”
The letter is signed: “Yours, Yang Hengjun.”
It has also been widely reported that the Chinese regime is not allowing Yang’s second wife, Yuan Rui Juan, to leave the country even though her application for permanent residency in Australia was progressing and required only a health examination. Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection is understood to have already agreed to approve a family reunion visa that Yuan and her step-daughter applied for, according to Fairfax Media.
Mixed Political Views
Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee Chair Andrew Hastie recently slammed the CCP for inciting fear of reprisal from the Australian government by detaining Yang. China may hope that the Australian response would be to adopt a softer approach to diplomatic relations with China.
Hastie, a Liberal member of federal parliament for Canning in Western Australia, demanded Yang’s immediate release and accused the CCP of making an example out of Yang to warn Chinese expatriates they could be arrested for criticising the communist regime.
Australia’s Defence Minister, Christopher Pyne, has not followed the advice of his fellow member of parliament to demand that Chinese authorities immediately release Yang. Instead, he has decided to wait and see how the Chinese legal system handles Yang’s case.
“Mr Yang was picked up when he returned to China in Guangzhou … and we need to let the legal system in China play out,” Mr. Pyne told Sky News. “He’s not the only former Chinese national who’s been placed in this position before and we need to make sure all of these people, whether they’re Canadians or Australians, are treated according to international law.”
Several senior government ministers have also been soft with their choice of words in response to Yang’s detention, instead seeking to obtain assurances about Yang’s welfare through the existing “closed-door” bilateral dialogue facilitated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the capital of Canberra.