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Aust writer detained in China, govt says


Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun has been detained in China by local authorities, the Australian government has confirmed, as Defence Minister Christopher Pyne begins an official visit to Beijing.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade received confirmation on Wednesday that the novelist and influential online commentator had been detained.

"The department is seeking to clarify the nature of this detention and to obtain consular access to him, in accordance with the bilateral consular agreement, as a matter of priority," it said in a statement on Thursday.

The alarm was raised about Dr Yang's whereabouts after he failed to complete the second leg of a journey from New York to Shanghai, after flying out of Australia on January 18 with his wife and son.

Friends believe he was detained by Chinese officials at Guangzhou airport.

Similar concerns were raised for Dr Yang's safety in 2011 when he disappeared after calling a friend from a Chinese airport claiming he was being followed by three men.

He later claimed the matter had been a "misunderstanding".

Mr Pyne is visiting Beijing on Thursday where he will meet with his counterpart, Minister of National Defence General Wei Fenghe, and other senior Chinese officials to discuss regional security and bilateral issues.

The issue of Dr Yang is likely to be raised by Mr Pyne during the meetings.

"The government is committed to maintaining a long-term constructive relationship with China, founded on shared interests and mutual respect - China and Australia's success will go hand-in-hand," he aid in a statement earlier this week.

Labor Leader Bill Shorten said the situation could not be sugar-coated.

"This is an Australian citizen who has been detained in China," he told the ABC News channel on Thursday.

"I'm very supportive of all efforts to reach out to him, to get to the bottom of what happened, what is happening. But it is very concerning. I can't pretend otherwise."

Mr Shorten said it was disappointing China took five days to involve Australia in the incident.

"This is not the way which relations between our two countries should be conducted at all."

Former China correspondent John Garnaut said Dr Yang is "not only brilliant but extraordinarily popular among the Chinese-speaking world and a courageous and committed democrat".

"This will reverberate globally if authorities do not quickly find an off-ramp," Mr Garnaut wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

© AAP 2019

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