Australia warns of 'arbitrary detention' in China

Australia's warning to its citizens to be wary of travel to China is the latest sign of frayed relations (AFP Photo/Lucas Coch)

Australia warned its citizens Tuesday they could face "arbitrary detention" if they travel to China, the latest sign of growing tensions between the two nations.

The foreign ministry issued the warning in updated travel advice, which also noted that Chinese authorities had detained foreigners for allegedly "endangering national security".

Australia has already told its citizens to avoid all international travel due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the updated advice did not raise the overall level of the warning against travel to China.

"Authorities have detained foreigners because they're 'endangering national security'. Australians may also be at risk of arbitrary detention," the latest warning said.

The warning came days after the foreign ministry cautioned Australians about the possibility of running afoul of controversial new security laws enacted by China in Hong Kong.

China's foreign ministry said in response that "foreigners in China have absolutely nothing to worry about as long as they abide by the law."

Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters that China hoped Australia would "remain objective and fair and do more to benefit the development of China-Australia relations".

Tension between Australia and its biggest trading partner has been rising for months, and flared recently after Beijing reacted furiously to Canberra's leading role in calls for a probe into the origins of the coronavirus.

Beijing subsequently imposed tariffs on Australian goods and warned Chinese tourists and students about visiting the country because of alleged racial harassment against Asians.

Last year China arrested Australian-Chinese writer Yang Hengjun, who was indicted earlier this year for espionage.

China has also arrested two Canadians after Canada detained a high-profile executive of Chinese telecom giant Huawei in late 2018.

Ottawa has condemned those arrests as "arbitrary".