Fifty-one-year-old John Hugh travelled from Sydney to China on Tuesday intending to return his father’s ashes to the land of his birth. But he never made it.
When Mr Hugh and his mother touched down in Shanghai, two border inspection officers boarded their plane.
“They asked me to present my passport, I did so, then they said to me take your belongings, come with us,” he told SBS News.
“I guess I have no choice but to go with them.”
His mother was waved through to Shanghai without incident, but Mr Hugh was ordered to switch off his phone, and within an hour was on a flight back to Sydney.
“I asked them what was the reason, obviously the reason for refusing to enter? Their answer was very diplomatic, said, ‘You should know.'”
The Australian citizen is a spokesman for the Australian Values Alliance, a loose-knit collection of Australian Chinese citizens critical of the Chinese government.
Last week he spoke at New South Wales Parliament House at the launch of a controversial book, Silent Invasion, which alleges widespread interference by the Chinese Communist Party in Australia.
The book’s author, Clive Hamilton, says the incident reinforces the view that the Chinese government operates in a vindictive way against those it perceives as its enemies.
“I think the message that John’s deportation from China sends to the Chinese-Australian community is quite simple and blunt and that is that if you criticise the Chinese Communist party than we will punish you if we can,” Mr Hamilton said.
As a former city councillor in western Sydney, Mr Hugh was part of a delegation to China in 2014.
Chinese authorities had requested he be dropped from the group before finally allowing him into the country.
In a statement, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says, “While we are disappointed the Councillor’s visit did not proceed as planned, China has authority over its own policies and procedures for the entry and exit of foreign nationals into and out of China.”
The Chinese embassy has not responded to requests from SBS News for comment.
Last year another Chinese-born Australian critic of Beijing, Dr Feng Chongyi, was detained in China for questioning for a week.
Peter Jennings is the executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
“This is associated with the increasingly nationalistic behaviour we’re seeing from Xi Jingping, along with his own tightening grip on the reins of power in China and yes, it is something much more noticeable now than a couple of years ago,” Mr Jennings told SBS News.
Mr Hugh’s 78-year-old mother is currently staying with relatives in Shanghai but he says she is being followed by authorities.
He is now organising a flight to Canada to reunite with her to continue their trip as planned.