Ukraine drones hit Russia. PNG soldiers, police to quell tribal violence. Taiwan tycoon runs for president. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Fears detained novelist will be ‘left to die a political prisoner’

A woman with her wrapped around a man as they both pose for the photograph.
Chinese–Australian novelist Yang Hengjun, who has been detained in China for four years, and his wife, Yuan Xiaoliang.
Credit: AP / Chongyi Feng

Great power rivalry

Ukraine: Drones targeted six regions across Russia and hit four military aircraft this week in what is believed to be Ukraine’s biggest drone attack inside Russia since the invasion last year.

Russian authorities said drones struck an airport outside the western city of Pskov but others were shot down over the regions of Moscow, Oryol, Bryansk, Ryazan and Kaluga. Flights to and from Pskov airport were cancelled on Wednesday.

In apparent response, Russia launched its heaviest missile and drone strike on Kyiv in months. At least two people were killed.

On the ground, Ukrainian troops recaptured the small village of Robotyne in southern Ukraine, raising hopes they might have breached Russian frontlines. But Russian troops captured some territory in the north, as both sides appeared to be trying to force the other to divert soldiers from their planned offensives.

Separately, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Russian Wagner mercenary group, was buried on Tuesday in a cemetery outside St Petersburg after his death in a plane crash last week. The crash occurred two months after he launched a brief mutiny against the Kremlin. Russian president Vladimir Putin did not attend the funeral. 

The neighbourhood

Papua New Guinea: More than 200 soldiers and police were deployed this week to Enga, a northern province in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, to try to quell an outbreak of tribal violence that has left up to 150 people dead in the past month.

A deputy police commissioner, Philip Mitna, this week said officers from Enga would be redeployed to the highlands from Port Moresby, the capital.

“They know the language,” he told reporters.

“They know the customs and they know the underlying issues … They have a genuine desire to bring peace and normalcy back into Enga.”

The violence, which has involved about 10 tribes, is believed to be a continuation of fighting that began during last year’s election, which left dozens dead and forced thousands to flee their homes. But the broader causes are believed to be chronic poverty, unemployment and hopelessness, particularly among younger men, as well as ready access to weapons and a breakdown of the rule of law. PNG is ranked the 130th most corrupt country out of 180 countries by Transparency International, and has a GDP per capita of US$3020, according to the World Bank. Australia’s is US$64,491.

James Marape, PNG’s prime minister, has labelled the violence “domestic terrorism” and plans to introduce life sentences for those who cause tribal violence.

Democracy in retreat

China: For four years, Yang Hengjun, a Chinese-Australian novelist, political blogger and scholar, has lived with two fellow prisoners in a 1.2m-wide cell in a jail in Beijing. He was charged with espionage after arriving in China from New York, though little is known about his alleged crimes. In 2021, he faced a closed trial, but is yet to receive a verdict.

Yang, who is 58 years old, released a message from prison this week, saying his health is deteriorating and he fears he may die. A recent medical examination revealed he has a 10cm cyst on his kidney.

“If something happens with my health and I die in here, people outside won’t know the truth,” he said, in a message provided to the media by his supporters.

“That is frustrating. If something happens to me, who can speak for me?”

Yang’s detention – and that of Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who has been held since 2020 – came amid deteriorating ties between Beijing and Canberra. In the past year, as Beijing agreed to resume high-level meetings with Canberra, Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese and senior ministers have raised the cases of Yang and Lei with their Chinese counterparts, to no avail.

Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, told ABC News on Wednesday she was concerned about Yang’s health and would continue to push for him to be treated fairly.

“We take these medical issues very seriously and we have pressed the Chinese system to ensure that he has the medical treatment he needs,” she said.

Yang, a former Chinese diplomat, worked for the Ministry of State Security – a secretive intelligence and security agency – before becoming an Australian citizen in 2002.

Chongyi Feng, a China expert at the University of Technology Sydney and Yang’s doctoral supervisor, said Canberra should demand access to Yang’s medical records, and insist he receive medical treatment outside the jail and be released on medical parole.

“These are the three things that need to be done to ensure that an Australian citizen is not left to die as a political prisoner in a Beijing detention centre,” he said.

Spotlight: Taiwan tycoon runs for president

Terry Gou, a billionaire who founded Foxconn, the maker of iPhones and the world’s largest manufacturer of computers and electronics, is standing to be Taiwan’s next president.

The 72-year-old, a prominent and straight-talking figure who supports a more conciliatory approach to China, initially tried and failed to become the candidate of the centre-right Kuomintang (KMT) party. On Monday, he announced he would run as an independent.

“Give me four years and I promise that I will bring 50 years of peace to the Taiwan Strait,” he said at a press conference. “I will not let Taiwan become the next Ukraine.”

Taiwan’s elections are due to be held next January. Gou’s decision to join the race is likely to split the opposition and boost the prospects of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which views Taiwan as independent from China.

Tsai Ing-wen, who has been president since 2016, is stepping down due to Taiwan’s two-term limit. She has avoided declaring independence but insists Taiwan is already independent – a position that is expected to be followed by Lai Ching-te, the DPP’s presidential nominee. China views Taiwan as part of its territory and is committed to “reunification”, by force if necessary.

Gou, who stepped down as chair of Foxconn in 2019, has extensive experience in dealing with China, where Foxconn has vast factories. The company is one of the world’s biggest employers and at times has had a workforce of more than a million people.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 2, 2023 as "Fears detained novelist will be ‘left to die a political prisoner’ ".

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