Australian detained in China receives consular visit: official

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Beijing (AFP)

The Australian embassy in Beijing was on Friday granted consular access to Australian national Yang Jun, who is detained in China on national security grounds.

Embassy staff made a consular visit to Yang in the afternoon, according to a brief statement released by the Australian department of foreign affairs.

"Access to Mr Yang was provided in accordance with our bilateral consular agreement with China," the statement said.

"Due to Privacy Act obligations, we will not provide further details about Mr Yang or the contents of our consular discussions with Mr Yang."

The Chinese-Australian author and democracy advocate, whose pen name is Yang Hengjun, was detained shortly after he made a rare return to China from the United States last week.

Beijing state security took "compulsory measures" against Yang, who is suspected of "engaging in criminal activities that endanger China's national security", China's foreign ministry said Thursday.

His detention comes amid heightened tensions between Western countries and an increasingly muscular Beijing, which detained two Canadians last month amid a diplomatic row with Ottawa.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on Friday that Yang never worked for the foreign ministry, contrary to media reports.

- Rising tensions -

Yang left mainland China for Hong Kong in 1992 and became an Australian citizen in 2000.

According to Yang's lawyer Mo Shaoping, the detained Australian national is under residential surveillance.

National security accusations like those levied against Yang often imply espionage allegations in China, and are similar to those made against the two Canadians who were detained in December, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor.

The two were taken after Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei, was arrested in Canada at the behest of a US extradition request linked to violations of Iran sanctions.

Her extradition hearing is expected to start in February.

Tensions between China and Australia have also been strained in recent months.

Australia banned Huawei from participating in its 5G network in August over security fears. The United States and New Zealand have taken similar steps.

Canberra has demanded that Yang be treated "fairly and transparently" and has complained was notified four days after the detention, instead of three days as required.

This is not the first time that Yang has disappeared in China -- he went missing during a 2011 trip but resurfaced days later describing his disappearance as a "misunderstanding."

Days after Yang's arrest, Vietnamese-Australian pro-democracy activist Chau Van Kham was detained in Vietnam by security services on his return to Ho Chi Minh city. Australia said Friday that it was seeking consular access.