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Tensions Rise as Australian Writer Faces Suspended Death Sentence in China

In a recent turn of events, a Beijing court on February 5, 2024, handed Australian writer Yang Hengjun a suspended death sentence. This development threatens the delicate rebound in bilateral ties between Australia and China. The relationship between the two nations had been strained for several years, with recent efforts to mend ties now at risk.

Background of Recent Bilateral Ties

Australia and China have experienced a rollercoaster of diplomatic relations in recent years. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s historic visit to China in November marked the first by an Australian leader in seven years. Despite issues ranging from human rights concerns to tensions in the South China Sea, both nations aimed at fostering a positive relationship.

Timeline of Australia-China Relations

Nov. 17, 2014: A landmark free trade agreement was sealed between Australia and China after a decade of negotiations.

Dec. 5, 2017: Concerns about Chinese influence led Australia to announce a ban on foreign political donations to safeguard against external interference.

Aug. 23, 2018: Australia banned Huawei from its 5G broadband network, citing national security regulations.

April 2020: Australia sought support for an international inquiry into COVID-19’s origins, triggering Chinese threats of boycotts on Australian wine, beef, and tourism.

June 9, 2020: China cautioned students against choosing Australia for education due to alleged racist incidents.

August 2020: Australian citizen Cheng Lei was detained in Beijing.

Nov. 27, 2020: China imposed temporary anti-dumping tariffs on Australian wine and blocked or restricted shipments of live lobsters, timber, and barley.

May 22, 2022: Australia’s Labor Party, led by Albanese, ended almost a decade of conservative rule.

Jan. 3, 2023: China allowed the resumption of coal imports from Australia.

Oct. 11, 2023: China released Australian journalist Cheng Lei after three years in prison.

Nov. 6-7, 2023: PM Albanese emphasized the importance of a strong relationship during meetings with Chinese leaders.

Dec. 17, 2023: Australia expressed confidence in the lifting of punitive tariffs on its wine by early 2024.

Jan. 18, 2024: Tensions escalated as Australia rejected blame deflection by China’s ambassador for the injury of Australian military divers.

The Latest Blow – Yang Hengjun’s Suspended Death Sentence

In the latest setback, on Feb. 5, 2024, a Beijing court delivered a suspended death sentence to Australian writer Yang Hengjun. This comes five years after his initial detention in China and three years after a closed-door trial on espionage charges. The severity of this sentence poses a significant threat to the recent improvements in Australia-China relations, raising concerns about the future trajectory of the diplomatic ties.

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