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PM Shuts Downs Claims Detained Aussie Was A Spy

Scott Morrison has rubbished claims an Australian jailed on espionage charges in China acted as a spy, as the man appealed to the PM to help him get home. 

Academic Yang Hengjun was formally arrested this week on suspicion of espionage, more than seven months after he was detained by Chinese authorities.

He could face the death penalty if the charges against him stand.

Speaking to the Nine Network on Thursday, Scott Morrison said suggestions Yang was working as a spy on the government's behalf are "absolutely untrue".

"These suggestions that he's acted as a spy for Australia are absolutely untrue and we'll be protecting and seeking to support our citizen, as we have been doing for some time," he said.

"We make no apologies for standing up for one of our citizens."

Yang Hengjun has been detained in China for about seven months. Photo:Twitter

Yang, 53, is a former China ministry of foreign affairs diplomat who became a pro-democracy campaigner and was made an Australian citizen in 2002.

He was detained in Guangzhou in January during a stopover while travelling from the U.S. to Australia and has been held in Beijing ever since.

Australian officials visited Yang in detention in Beijing on Tuesday, as Foreign Minister Marise Payne -- who has raised serious concerns for his welfare and treatment -- endeavours to seek his release.

READ MORE: China Warns Australia To 'Stop Interfering' In Arrest Of Yang Hengjun 

READ MORE: Australian Activist Charged With Spying In China 

Yang reportedly relayed a messaged through an Australian consular official, pleading with the Prime Minister to "please help [him] go home as soon as possible".

In it, he thanked his supporters and Australian officials for their visit, saying an [Minister of State Security] investigation officer had told him Australia was small and wouldn't care about him.

"He said Australia was dependent on China for its trade and economy, and Canberra wouldn’t help me, let alone rescue me. He said Australia wouldn’t help because I am not white," Yang said.

"This is nonsense. He was wrong. I am extremely grateful to the Australian Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and members of Parliament, the embassy team, and the ambassador for their help."

Yang Hengjun has pleaded with Scott Morrison to help him get home. Photo: AAP)

Yang said he had devoted 15 years of writing for China, for Chinese people and for reform, saying he did not deserve the treatment he has experienced.

China has asked Australia to respect its judicial sovereignty and warned against interfering in the case.

Morrison said he too shares concerned about Yang treatment, and dismissed claims raising such concerns "is interfering in the system".

"We would expect the same to occur if other countries had concerns about anyone's treatment in Australia to raise issues and that's the way these issues should be handled and that's all we're simply seeking to do," he said.

"They have their system of justice in China. It may be different to ours but that's ... they're a sovereign nation and we respect that."

Featured image: Twitter