SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia is "deeply disappointed" that Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun has been transferred to criminal detention in China, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a strongly-worded statement on Friday.
Yang, who was born in China, was detained in the southern city of Guangzhou in January amid growing tension between Australia and its largest trading partner after Chinese telecoms giant Huawei was blocked from participating in a 5G mobile project last year.
The reason for his detention is unclear, but China has said he is held under "coercive measures," while he is investigated on suspicion of endangering state security.
Payne said Australia was informed on Friday that he has now been transferred to criminal detention, adding: "The Australian Government is deeply disappointed."
"The government has expressed concern about Dr Yang's welfare and the conditions under which he is held," she said.
"We have asked for clarification regarding the reasons for Dr Yang’s detention. If he is being detained for his political views, then he should be released."
Yang, 53, whose legal name is Yang Jun, was detained in China while waiting for a transfer to Shanghai earlier this month, after flying in from New York.
Although his recent writing has mostly avoid Chinese politics, Yang first became prominent in the early 2000s when he earned the nickname of "democracy peddler".
Payne said that Australia had for months pressed China seeking resolution of his case, and that she had written twice to Foreign Minister Wang Yi to request Yang be granted access to his lawyers.
"This has not occurred," Payne said.
"We expect basic standards of justice and procedural fairness to be met...we will continue to press Chinese authorities for fair and humane treatment, in accordance with international norms," she said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a news briefing in Beijing on Thursday that as far as he was aware, the case was still being investigated.
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Nick Macfie & Kim Coghill)
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