Australian Activist Charged With Spying In China

An Australian writer and democracy advocate has been formally charged with espionage by Chinese authorities after eight months of detention.

Yang Hengjun, who is also a former Chinese diplomat, was detained by officials in January after flying into Guangzhou from New York. The alarm was raised when he did not board his connecting flight to Shanghai.

Authorities later confirmed that he was being investigated for endangering state security but refused to elaborate and denied him access to a lawyer and family.

He was officially arrested on August 23 and was charged with espionage overnight.

In China, penalties for the offence can range from three years jail to the death penalty.

Yang Hengjun is currently being held by the Chinese government. (Image AAP)

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne issued a statement on Tuesday, raising concerns about Yang's welfare.

"China has not explained the reasons for Dr Yang’s detention, nor has it allowed him access to his lawyers or family visits," she said.

"I have discussed this twice with China’s Foreign Minister, State Councilor Wang Yi, and have written to him three times, stating my concerns, and those of the Australian government and people.

"We have serious concerns for Dr Yang’s welfare, and about the conditions under which he is being been held," she continued.

Australian Embassy officials have visited Yang at least seven times since his detention, while another visit has been approved for Tuesday.

"I will continue to advocate strongly on behalf of Dr Yang to ensure a satisfactory explanation of the basis for his arrest, that he is treated humanely and that he is allowed to return home," Payne said.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne. Photo: AAP

Yang was born in China but became an Australian citizen in the early 2000s. He also became an outspoken blogger, writing thousands of articles promoting democracy and human rights.

READ MORE: 'Courageous' Australian Writer Yang Hengjun Detained In China

He quickly built up a large following in China.

Yang was detained in Beijing from January until July without access to his lawyer or family.

“We would describe it as home detention. As Dr Yang doesn’t have a home in Beijing, he is being held in a similar situation as opposed to being held in a prison,” then Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said in January.

In July he was moved to a Beijing detention centre in the lead-up to the charges.

More to come.