Doorstop - Beijing
24 January 2019
SUBJECTS: Australia/China Defence relationship; the detainment of Yang Hengjun; South China Sea.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I’m delighted to be here in Beijing this afternoon for my third visit to China and my second as a Cabinet Minister, my first as a Defence Minister, and I’m the first Defence Minister from Australia to visit China since October 2014. So it’s been a long time between visits in the Defence portfolio and so I’m very pleased to be here. While I’m here I’ll be visiting with my counterpart, General Wei, this afternoon, and I’m looking forward to seeing him. I first met him in Singapore for the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ plus conference, and then I’ll travel to Guangzhou tomorrow to visit the Southern Command of the PLA in Guangzhou then travel on to Singapore.
The relationship between Australia and China is obviously one of our very most important, and it’s broad and it’s very deep. It’s a $200 billion, two-way trade relationship; two million tourists each way every year; 200,000 international students from China are domiciled in Australia and studying there. We have quite a large Defence relationship with China in terms of exercises, high-level visits, exchange of information and working together to interdict criminals, people smugglers, the illegal tobacco trade, for example. And we will be bringing that Defence relationship together by signing a memorandum of understanding this afternoon between General Wei and I to incorporate all those elements together in the one document.
So the relationship is very important. As is often the case between mature relationships, there are sometimes tensions, and last year there were obviously some of those tensions on display over a number of different issues. But since- in the last few months, there have been numerous ministerial visits. Senator Payne, the Foreign Minister; Senator Birmingham, the Trade Minister; and now myself, and I think that indicates a healthy and robust relationship, one upon which we can build from a strong foundation.
QUESTION: Minister, will you be raising the case of detained Australian Yang Hengjun with your counterpart, General Wei?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Yes I will. The Australian Government is obviously concerned with the residential surveillance of Mr Yang. He’s an Australian citizen and we are seeking to provide him with consular assistance and support to ensure that he is treated fairly and transparently. And I’ll be raising with General Wei this afternoon that very requirement on behalf of the Australian Government – that he be given access to consular support and that he be treated fairly and transparently.
QUESTION: Has he been given access to consular support?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: There have been meetings between the Australian Government and the Chinese Government to talk about the situation with Mr Yang, but as yet he has not been provided with consular support.
QUESTION: Do we know why he’s been arrested? Any indication from the Chinese on what the allegations are against him?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I have no further and better particulars on the reasons for Mr Yang’s detention or what the plan is for Mr Yang. But obviously we are seeking that information. The Embassy is seeking that information from their counterparts, and I will raise with General Wei that that assistance be allowed to be provided as soon as possible and that he- that I’ll be asking after Mr Yang’s welfare.
QUESTION: You mentioned it was residential surveillance [indistinct]. Can you indicate which authorities – which Chinese Authorities are holding him?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, I can’t.
QUESTION: Do you know where he’s being held?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I don’t have that information with enough certainty to be able to answer that question.
QUESTION: What do you mean by residential surveillance? Is he in a private home or is he in a jail?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well we would describe it has home detention, but as Mr Wei- Mr Yang doesn’t have a home in Beijing, I assume he’s being held in a similar kind of situation as opposed to being held in prison, but he’s being held in residential surveillance, which we would normally describe as home detention.
QUESTION: So in Beijing?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: My understanding is he’s in Beijing, yes.
QUESTION: Does his wife have access to him?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I’m not aware of that.
QUESTION: It appears five days has lapsed since he was detained. Does that mean China has breached the consular agreement upon giving diplomats access to him within five days?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well normally we would expect to have been given that kind of notice about Mr Yang’s detention within three days. It took four days for that to be provided to Australia. Obviously, that is disappointing and we’ll be raising that too with Chinese Government officials. In terms of Mr Yang’s welfare, it’s not immediately apparent that that’s had any impact on it, but obviously that’s the kind of information that we’re trying to access.
QUESTION: What about Defence matters while you’re here? Will you be raising, for example, China’s continued development of its military bases in the South China Sea?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: We have a very firm view in Australia about the South China Sea. It is international waters and we reserve the right to navigate in the South China Sea and of course to undertake overflight over the South China Sea. We don’t take a position on particular claimants’ requirements for the South China Sea or their claims over the South China Sea, but we do insist that it be treated as international waters and we don’t recognise China’s claims over the South China Sea.
Okay, thank you very much.