“We are obviously keen, and have been stressing in all our diplomatic engagements around this issue, that there should be transparency, there should be a fair and just process,” he said.
“These are the things we stand for as Australians, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t expect the same for any Australian, wherever they are in the world including in the PRC [People’s Republic of China].
“The system there is very different to the system here in Australia, and that can cause some anxiety.”
The ABC reported on Saturday that Yang had been charged on October 7. There are no details about the exact nature of charges against Yang, a pro-democracy blogger who was born in China and once worked for its Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Yang’s lawyer, Shang Baojun, told the ABC that Yang had been officially charged with espionage but gave no further details stating he was “strictly prohibited from being interviewed by the foreign media”.
In September, Yang vowed to “fight to the end” after seeing his second lawyer, Mo Shaoping, for the first time since he was detained.
The 55-year-old has been isolated and allegedly tortured in an attempt to extract a confession on the unspecified claims.
In comments to his lawyers and confirmed by sources close to his family at the time, Yang said he wanted to go to court. “This is political persecution,” he said. “They can abuse me. I did not confess to anything criminal. I am innocent and will fight to the end.”
Yang is among several Australians detained by Chinese authorities. Chinese-Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei is also being held by state security on unknown claims.
Yang’s wife, Yuan Xiaoliang, told the ABC she felt “helpless” after hearing her husband had been charged.
Chinese authorities have spent the past year interrogating the pro-democracy blogger on his Australian, US and Chinese Communist Party connections. Prior to coming to Australia in 1999, Yang has said he worked for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The charge comes at a time when relations between Australia and China are at their lowest point since diplomatic ties were established almost 50 years ago.
Australia has no accredited foreign correspondents left in China after two journalists were last month forced out of the country, while Australian Australian television anchor Cheng Lei has also been detained in Beijing.
Cheng, a business anchor with Chinese state media network CGTN was privately critical of the Chinese Communist Party on Facebook. China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed in September that the Melbourne-mother had been arrested on national security grounds but there has been no public detail on the specific claims against her.
Australian journalists Bill Birtles and Michael Smith left China in September after being questioned by Chinese state security in relation to Cheng’s case.
Australian-Chinese relations have deteriorated sharply since 2018, with multiple disputes over the coronavirus, Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong, foreign interference and incursions into the South China Sea.
China has imposed more than $1 billion in trade strikes against Australia this year, after the Morrison government pushed for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Australia had been informed that Chinese authorities have decided to prosecute Yang “on charges yet to be announced”.
“The Australian Government has had recent consular access to Dr Yang in detention, in line with our bilateral consular agreement. We will continue to provide consular support to him and his family, and to advocate for his interests,” the DFAT spokeswoman said.
Eryk Bagshaw is the China correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Due to travel restrictions, he is currently based in Canberra.
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.