Govt 'doing all it can' on detained writer

TREASURER Josh Frydenberg has rejected claims the federal government is not doing enough to secure the release of an Australian writer detained in China.

Yang Hengjun, a 53-year-old Chinese-born man, has been held in Guangzhou since January after flying into the country from New York.

His wife Yuan Xiaoliang, who is a permanent resident of Australia, has been banned from leaving China.

Foreign policy experts and human rights advocacy groups have urged the government to step up diplomatic efforts, with critics arguing its response has not been strong enough.

But Mr Frydenberg dismissed suggestions Australia wasn't doing enough to get Mr Yang released.

"That's just false. We do everything humanly possible to protect our citizens at home and abroad," he told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday.

"When they get into trouble abroad or get held then we do everything we can to secure their release, just as we have done recently with Alek Sigley in North Korea, which is a wonderful result for him and his family."

He said Foreign Minister Marise Payne was acutely aware of Mr Yang's case.

Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said the opposition supported the government making it clear to China that Mr Yang should not be detained for his political views.

"We are comforted by the fact that the foreign minister has also said that they have repeatedly raised Mr Yang's case with the Chinese government and we appreciate that as well," he told ABC radio.

"From there, I think it's important to leave the delicate work of a consular matter like this to the diplomats who are professionals in this space."

Asked why Australia has taken a different approach to Mr Yang's case than it did to that of Hakeem al-Araibi when he was detained in Thailand, Mr Marles said no two consular cases were the same.

"It is really horses for courses."

On Monday, it was revealed Ms Yuan was questioned by Chinese authorities at the weekend after trying to leave the country.

She was subjected to an exit ban, but not detained.

Mr Yang, who has been an Australian citizen since 2002, was living in New York as a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

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