Press conference, Canberra

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Sentencing of Dr Yang Jun.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Today I come to you with the most harrowing news. In Beijing, Australian citizen Dr Yang Jun has received a suspended death sentence. We understand that this can be commuted to a life sentence following two years.

The Australian Government is appalled at this outcome. We will be communicating our response in the strongest terms. As a first step, I have directed my Secretary to summon China's Ambassador to Australia to express our objection.

I want to acknowledge the acute distress that Dr Yang and his family will be feeling today, coming after years of uncertainty. My thoughts, the Prime Minister's thoughts and I think all Australians' thoughts are with them.

Dr Yang has been detained since January 2019 on national security charges. His verdict and his sentence have been subject to repeated delay since his closed trial on the 27th of May 2021. The Australian Government has advocated for Dr Yang with China at every opportunity and at the highest levels. We have consistently called for basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment for Dr Yang in accordance with international norms and China's legal obligations.

Australia will not relent in our advocacy for justice for Dr Yang's interests and well-being, including appropriate medical treatment. And we will continue to provide consular assistance to him and his family. All Australians want to see Dr Yang reunited with his family.

I'm happy to take questions.

Journalist: Senator, we know last year that there was a report that Yang Hengjun had collapsed in prison, that he had other illnesses related to his kidneys. Do you know what his current health condition is now and what kind of concerns you might have in the future?

Foreign Minister: Well, look, you would know that I am always limited in what I can say for reasons of privacy. What I can say to you is we continue to press for Dr Yang to have appropriate treatment, including in relation to his medical conditions, with the Chinese authorities.

Journalist: Senator, when do you expect to hear from China's Ambassador here, and have you considered recalling Australia's ambassador from Beijing?

Foreign Minister: In relation to the former, as I said in my opening, my – I have directed the Secretary of my department to call in the Chinese Ambassador to express Australia's concerns about this issue. And on the second, the answer is no.

Journalist: Senator, the PRC has consistently said it wants friendly relations with Australia, and as recently as last month the ambassador said that again. What does this do for the diplomatic relationship?

Foreign Minister: Well, I – first, I'd say, you know, more broadly about the relationship, I have said stabilisation means we cooperate where we can, disagree where we must, and we engage in the national interest. I would make the point this is the decision within China's legal system. Clearly this is an occasion on which we disagree. However, Australia will continue to advocate for the interests of Dr Yang.

Mr Coorey.

Journalist: In that context, Minister, do you still regard it as a setback, given, as you said, the numerous representations made by yourself, the Prime Minister and other ministers, that the Chinese knew this was part of the reproachment, if you like?

Foreign Minister: As I said, this is a decision of the Chinese legal system. I do not step back from what I said at the outset, which is that the Australian Government is appalled by this decision.

Mr Knott.

Journalist: Would the government still want to host the Chinese President or Chinese Premier here in Australia this year after this verdict?

Foreign Minister: Well,– we will continue to engage with China, and part of that engagement is the – what I have articulated today as our response in relation to this particular verdict. And I will – we will continue to advocate on Dr Yang's behalf. And I again would say, I think all Australians would him to be reunited with his family.


Journalist: Minister, could you just step through your understanding of the conditions around the sentence being committed after two years, and is that the end of the legal process for Dr Yang?

Foreign Minister: No, I am advised that Dr Yang still has avenues of – for appeal available to him.

Journalist: Foreign Minister, what other diplomatic measures remain available to Australia given that the Ambassador won't be recalled?

Foreign Minister: We will continue to advocate and express our views to China. Obviously this is the Chinese legal system. We are – and there are appeal avenues available to Dr Yang, which I don't intend to pre-empt. I would say the important thing today is for – is two things: the first is for the Australian Government – so me on behalf of our country – to express our views about – our view about the verdict and – our view about the sentence, I should say. And the second is to express our empathy with and solidarity with Dr Yang's family.

Journalist: Could you explain why you haven't taken that decision to recall the Ambassador?

Foreign Minister: Well, first, this has been not – as you would know, this verdict – this sentence was handed down today. We've made clear that we will continue to engage with China. And you would know that in relation to Dr Yang, it is very important that we continue to engage, particularly in relation to his treatment, in these circumstances.

Journalist: Minister, does the good behaviour condition effectively preclude his family from advocating on his behalf in the media?

Foreign Minister: All I would say is that he has appeal options available to him, and I'm not going to engage in discussion which might have any effect on those options or his consideration of them.

Journalist: Sorry, I'm going to follow up Clare's question about your understanding of how the commuting of the sentence might work?

Foreign Minister: I've given you the advice I have to date. But, again, this is speculation which may or may not affect or have a bearing on those appeal options available to him. So I appreciate why you're asking it and I appreciate you may wish to – and you're free to in a democracy – to speculate about that. But the person in my position would not engage in that speculation.

Journalist: Senator, diplomacy in these sorts of cases is usually handled behind closed doors. Is it a product of you coming out publicly a sign of frustration?

Foreign Minister: Our judgement was that the nature of this sentence was such that it was important for us to speak publicly and directly from me and to make those representations – ahead of those representations being made in private. As you know, we seek to conduct our engagement with other countries recognising there are times you speak privately and there are also times where you have to make your position very clear publicly. And today is one of them. I also wanted to make clear very publicly the Government's support for not only Dr Yang but our support for his family.

Journalist: Foreign Minister, just, do you have a latest update on Dr Yang's health that you've received?

Foreign Minister: I think I sort of got that question broadly earlier. We are very engaged on this issue. This has been – his health and what he requires has been a topic of discussion at many levels with the Chinese authorities. I'm not in a position to go into details of his health condition, but I would say to you we are very seized of this and will continue to advocate for at this time to obtain treatment.

Journalist: Senator, what does the Australian Government say as to the substance of the claims, allegations, charges against Dr Yang?

Foreign Minister: Well, Dr Yang, as you know, was charged with offences related to national security. That's the basis on which the Chinese legal system has approached this. We're not in a position to comment on the specifics of Dr Yang's case. I would note that Australian officials were not able to attend Dr Yang's trial in 2021.

Thank you very much for coming.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555