Australia has asked China for information on a Chinese-born Australian writer who disappeared in the country, the government said Tuesday as a friend claimed Yang Hengjun had been detained in Beijing's ongoing crackdown on political expression.
The Sydney-based spy novelist phoned an assistant Sunday from Guangzhou airport in southeastern China to say three men were following him, said his friend Feng Chongyi, Associate Professor in China Studies at the University of Technology in Sydney.
Yang was later able to briefly phone a sister in Guangzhou to say "he's having a long chat with his old friends," Feng said. This was a prearranged signal that Yang had been taken by the secret police, Feng said.
"I'm 100 percent sure that he was been taken away by the secret police," said Feng, adding that the current crackdown on political expression in China was the reason.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed Tuesday that it is investigating the disappearance.
Yang, 46, was an official in the Chinese Foreign Ministry before moving to Australia. His novel, "Fatal Weakness," deals with espionage between China and the United States and has been published on the Internet in China.
He also writes a blog that frequently discusses sensitive issues involving China's government and democracy, Feng said.
"He is one of the most influential bloggers in China, especially for political issues," Feng said. "Usually his blogs get millions of visitors; he's very popular."
Yang spends most of his time in China, although his wife and two children live in their Sydney home, Feng said.
China's Foreign Ministry said it had no information on Yang.
"I have not heard of that person," spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news conference in Beijing on Tuesday.