As the ruling Chinese Communist Party gets ready to try Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun for espionage, his former university professor in Australia has claimed that Yang admitted to working as a Chinese spy for 10 years.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed to the media earlier this month that China has decided to prosecute Yang, 55, who has been in incommunicado detention since arriving in the southern city of Guangzhou in January 2019.
China’s foreign ministry has accused Yang of “engaging in criminal activities that endangered China’s national security,” while Yang has reportedly refused to plead guilty to the charges.
Now, Feng Chongyi, an associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has claimed that Yang wrote to him in 2011, revealing that he had worked for China’s ministry of state security for 10 years starting in 1989.
According to Feng’s account of the letter given to Reuters, Yang stopped working for the ministry on moving to Australia a decade later.
Repeated attempts to contact Feng were unsuccessful, and neither Reuters nor RFA were able to verify the authenticity of the letter he claims to have quoted.
But pro-democracy activist Yi Gai, a friend of Yang’s, said he had never heard him talk about working for the state security police.
“I saw him off at the airport just before he left; we ate dinner together,” Yi told RFA. “I don’t think he would have told me even if this was true, though.”
“Feng Chongyi had far more to do with Yang, who got his degree from [Feng’s university], and they had far more dealings with each other, socially, academically, and politically,” Yi said.
According to Feng’s account given to Reuters, Yang worked as a Chinese spy in Hong Kong from 1992, and continued to do so while working as a researcher at a Washington think-tank.
‘A very capable man’
New York-based former democracy activist Wang Juntao said Yang had never participated in any street protests organized by the China Democracy Party in the U.S., but had been very active in pro-democracy circles while in the country.
“My impression of Yang Hengjun was that he could easily have been doing [espionage] work,” Wang said. “He is a very capable man, with a strong talent for getting close to people and is a very quick thinker, with the ability to understand anything you tell him and sum it up succinctly.”
Wang said it is entirely possible that living in a democratic country changed Yang’s perspective, the longer he was outside China, however.
“I think the more time he spent in the West, the more he saw the sense of it,” he said.
Wang said it was unclear what Feng had intended with his revelation of the letter from Yang, nor what effect the information could have on the outcome for his former student.
Reported by Ma Lap-hak and Carmen Wu for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.