China interrogated Australian residents over ties to Turnbull government adviser

April 08, 2019

Two Australian residents have revealed they were interrogated by Chinese officials seeking information about a secret investigation into China's influence in Australia that was launched by then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The Conservative Party continues to call for a royal commission into Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia.

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The Chinese government intelligence agents were especially keen to press the pair for information about John Garnaut, who was appointed by Mr Turnbull to head up the top-secret investigation with ASIO in 2016.

The investigation was looking into Beijing's interference in Australia.

One of the men, a former Chinese government official-turned blogger, Yang Hengjun, has been detained in China since January and has so far been denied access to a lawyer.

A joint investigation by ABC TV's Four Corners, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald can reveal details of the interrogations both men faced over the classified report.

Writer and academic Feng Chongyi has revealed Chinese intelligence officials detained him for several days in China in 2017 and interrogated him about his dealings with Mr Garnaut.

He says they wanted to know "in every detail" what Mr Turnbull's adviser was doing.

"They knew a lot about him. During the interrogation, they did not hide that they were angry with him," he said.

Dr Feng says in his final interrogation session, Chinese security officials threatened him with criminal charges in China if he disclosed the details of his interrogation — including their interest in Mr Garnaut.

Mr Garnaut says the interrogation — conducted in the midst of his investigation for the Federal Government — "seems to add an extra layer of contempt" by Beijing for Australian sovereignty.

The joint investigation can reveal that in 2018, Mr Yang — who is also an Australian citizen — was allegedly intercepted and questioned by Chinese officials in Sydney when he was on his way to meet Mr Garnaut.

Mr Garnaut says the officials were intensely interested in his activities on behalf of the ASIO investigation.

"[They questioned Mr Yang] about me, what was the nature of our relationship, what was I doing, what was I working on," Mr Garnaut said.

On January 19, Mr Yang was detained by Chinese intelligence officials when he flew from the US to Guanghzou. He has been accused of endangering state security and is being held at a "residential detention" facility.

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Royal Commission on China needed

Revelations on the ABC's 4 Corners program show there are serious questions to be answered about the Chinese Community Party's influence in Australian politics. We cannot trust major parties to review their own conduct. We...

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