LINDA MOTTRAM: Well, as all of that was playing out, there have also been these ministerial talks between Australia and Papua New Guinea. Marise Payne is Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister. She’s just returned from those talks. She joined me a short time ago.
Minister, thank you for joining us. I’ll ask you about PNG in just a moment. But on Dr Yang Hengjun, is he a spy for Australia or anyone else?
MARISE PAYNE: Linda, we’ve made it very clear that there is no basis for any allegation that Dr Yang was spying for the Australian Government, and of course I can only speak for Australia but I have no information to support an accusation that that might be the case for any other country. I really want to reinforce that the Australian Government is very concerned and disappointed to learn that our Australian citizen, Dr Yang Jun, has been arrested and will continue to be detained. At this very difficult time, our thoughts are with his family.
LINDA MOTTRAM: What exactly is he alleged to have done? Do you have any clarity on the precise details?
MARISE PAYNE: Linda, we’ve been advised that he’s been arrested on what is called suspicion of espionage, and that is the detail that we have at the moment. But also advised that he will continue to be detained, as I said. We have got some concerns for his welfare and the conditions under which he has been held and we have consistently expressed those in very clear terms to the Chinese authorities. There are a number of requests that we have made. We’ve requested that his case be treated fairly and transparently. We have asked that he be granted immediate access to his lawyers, and although he has been detained for almost seven months, this has not occurred. We’ve asked for further clarification regarding the reasons for his detention and we have also said that if he is being detained for his political views, then he should be released.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Can you confirm that this will be a capital matter – that an Australian citizen will now potentially face the death penalty in China?
MARISE PAYNE: The crime that it is suggested that he may have committed, the kind of spying or espionage, is one of 46 criminal offences in China which is eligible for the death penalty under their criminal code, but we don’t have enough detail on the nature of the charges that may be laid to concern that at this stage. Of course, Australia strenuously opposes the death penalty in all circumstances for all people and I will continue to work tirelessly to advocate for Dr Yang’s interests, including in the context of any risk of the death penalty being applied.
LINDA MOTTRAM: When you spoke last month about your expectations of China to treat Dr Yang fairly, humanely, in accordance with international norms, Beijing warned Australia not to interfere in China’s legal handling of this case. It said Australia should cease making irresponsible remarks. How much leverage do you realistically have, do you think, in that climate?
MARISE PAYNE: Linda, we have been very consistent in our advocacy for Dr Yang with the Chinese Government, including my raising it directly with my counterpart, Councilor Wang Yi, on two occasions and in correspondence on more occasions than that. Australia expects, and I think the expectation of the community is that the basic standards of justice and procedural fairness should be met, and we are going to continue and I will continue to press Chinese authorities for that. I will advocate for an Australian citizen where I need to and in this case, I will advocate strongly and continue to do so for Dr Yang.
LINDA MOTTRAM: And what about Dr Yang’s wife? She’s the subject of an exit ban from China. She’s an Australian permanent resident. Is there any progress securing her liberty?
MARISE PAYNE: She continues, as I understand it, to be subject to an exit ban and was prevented previously from departing China. She’s also been questioned in relation to this matter. She is, yes, as you say, a permanent resident, but she is not an Australian citizen and we don’t have an immediate entitlement to consular access in that case.
LINDA MOTTRAM: And you’ve just arrived back in Australia from Papua New Guinea ministerial talks in the past day - PNG looking for assistance to help alleviate the pressure of its $12 billion Budget deficit. Given that they’re considering getting assistance from China if Australia doesn’t come to the party, does Australia have really any choice but to step in here?
MARISE PAYNE: We made a lot of progress in our discussions yesterday in our Ministerial Forum, the 27th Ministerial Forum between Australia and Papua New Guinea, which I think is a very strong indicator of the depth and breadth of this relationship. Financial matters and Papua New Guinea budgetary matters were obviously part of those conversations, and as the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann indicated with me in Port Moresby yesterday, we will have officials working to see what support and engagement Australia can provide. But I think the development of our Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership, which was committed to by Prime Minister Marape and Prime Minister Morrison when the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister was here for his Guest of Government visit just a really short time ago, is a great indication of the development of the Australia-Papua New Guinea partnership and it is very much one which we view in the context of a partnership and one which has enormous opportunity going forward.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Minister, thank you very much for joining us.
MARISE PAYNE: Thanks very much, Linda.
LINDA MOTTRAM: The Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
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