Australia lobbying hard for Yang Hengjun but must respect China’s legal process: ex-minister Julie Bishop


She says while both countries are friends, they are still learning to manage their differences

Bishop, who resigned from her post last August, said there was no evidence linking the detention of Yang Hengjun to Canada’s arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer, echoing a point made by Defence Minister Christopher Pyne on Monday.

The detention of Yang, a novelist and ex-diplomat, has fuelled speculation that Beijing has widened a campaign of retaliation against Canada for arresting Meng Wanzhou to include friendly countries such as Australia.

Meng was arrested in December at the request of the United States, which has accused her of conspiring to violate sanctions against Iran.

A file photo of Yang Hengjun, now an Australian citizen. Photo: Reuters
Yang is being held by the Ministry of State Security. He went missing soon after he arrived in Guangzhou in southern China in the middle of January.

Bishop, who was foreign minister for five years, said: “Of course we have to respect the legal processes of other countries, and as far as I am aware, no charges have been laid.”

While describing China and Australia as “friends”, Bishop acknowledged that the two countries were “still learning to manage our differences”.

“I spent a lot of time with my foreign minister counterpart, Wang Yi, and we get along just fine,” she said, after giving a speech at an Australian Chamber of Commerce event in Hong Kong.

“However, China respects strength, it does not respect weakness, and Australia must always stand up for its values and stand up for well-considered foreign policy. That doesn’t always please China and they make their displeasure known in various ways.”

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. Photo: AP
Later, Bishop expressed optimism about Beijing and Washington being able to resolve their differences on trade, warning that “nobody wins” in a prolonged trade war.

“The president’s words have been most encouraging and for some time, I have stated publicly it is my hope that while the negotiations have been fraught with conflict, that at the end of the day, there will be a positive deal,” she said, referring to recent statements by US President Donald Trump.

“Indeed, I hope it manifests in a US-China free trade agreement, and that would be good for the global economy.”