China’s detention of Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun earlier this month is fuelling fears among some sinologists in Australia and New Zealand that it is not safe to travel to the mainland for work. Yang, an Australian citizen and former Chinese diplomat who has criticised Beijing for censorship and overseas interference, has been held on the mainland under “residential surveillance” on suspicion of espionage since January 19. He was on a family trip when he was taken at Guangzhou airport.
Antonia Finnane, professor of Chinese history at the University of Melbourne, said Yang’s detention could stifle academic cooperation between the countries. “I wonder what the impact will be on academic exchanges?” she said. “My feeling is that risks to people who are not ethnically Chinese are small, but that repeated rogue-state actions like this on China’s part will act as a turn-off. There may be a butterfly effect.