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Government Needs to Change Approach in Dealing with Authoritarian Regimes

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Australia’s response to Beijing’s decision to hand a suspended death sentence to a citizen has been weak.


If the reaction of the Australian government to the imposition of a suspended death penalty on Yang Hengjun is any indication of future attitudes to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), it is dangerous and depressing.

Mr. Yang is an Australian citizen. His alleged crime occurred 28 years ago in Hong Kong. Working as an academic on the island and later in the United States was a cover for his actual employment as an operative for the CCP’s Ministry of State Security.

He eventually resigned from the ministry and returned to academic studies in the United States. There was nothing about his life and activities then that were considered remotely anti-CCP.

Mr. Yang, who emigrated to Australia, subsequently became a social media activist, mildly critical of the CCP. This appears to be his real crime, for which he was arrested after returning to China in 2019 to see family and friends.

Under CCP leader Xi Jinping, any criticism of the Chinese regime is condemned, as Mr. Yang discovered to his grave detriment. Yet the charges against him relate to events of three decades earlier.

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The announcement of the suspended death penalty is the latest example of the CCP’s hostage diplomacy.

For some years now, the regime has arrested people in response to adverse events, often releasing them once the CCP has achieved its goal.

It was not that long ago that the CCP released the Australian journalist Cheng Lei after three years of detention. Her supposed crime? Breaking a media embargo by a few minutes!

With judges and courts acting at the direction of the regime, there is only a semblance of the rule of law as practiced in the West.

Feeble Reaction

Australia’s response to the Mr. Yang case has been weak.

Apart from stating that it was “appalled” at the sentence and that it would press Mr. Yang’s cause, the foreign minister, Senator Penny Wong, had little other response.

Beijing’s ambassador was called in by the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, but this has been the extent of the response.

The CCP will use the sentence as a weapon against Australia. The threat of carrying out the death penalty will hang over Mr. Yang. How he could misbehave in a Chinese prison is questionable, but the CCP exercises brutal, arbitrary power.

Australian writer Yang Hengjun wishes Happy New Year to his Twitter followers at an unidentified location in this still image from an undated video obtained via social media. (Twitter@yanghengjun via Reuters)
Australian writer Yang Hengjun wishes Happy New Year to his Twitter followers at an unidentified location in this still image from an undated video obtained via social media. (Twitter@yanghengjun via Reuters)

At the very least, Australia should join with other nations, such as Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, whose citizens have also been arrested arbitrarily to jointly condemn the CCP.

The CCP uses these tactics against various nations, but detests joint international criticism. Other nations must work in concert to identify and condemn the arbitrary misuse of power by Xi’s regime.

Australian foreign policy increasingly resembles appeasement. Senator Wong’s stance on the murderous attack by Hamas was inadequate and weak. What will the Albanese government stand up for?

Instead of vigorously protecting the national interest, it has been virtually silent on the Mr. Yang case.

Perhaps it was believed that the release of Cheng Lei and the indication that some export bans would be reconsidered was a win. If so, the Yang case demonstrates the fallacy of this argument.

Some security experts worry that Labor’s response to international incidents—whether in the Middle East, China or elsewhere—is driven by craven domestic politics.

The weak response to the Hamas atrocities—especially in the electorates with many Palestinians—and the courting of the Chinese diaspora by Labor, is a worrying development in Australia.

Having begun its term with very positive foreign affairs actions, especially in the South Pacific, the government now appears uncertain and ambivalent.

Whether Australians like it or not, the CCP is engaged in a hybrid war against any nation it perceives as a threat. This includes Australia.

To ignore this reality is to weaken our response—and our national security.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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