The armed forces of Australia and China should expand cooperation but Canberra must understand Beijing’s need for “mutual respect, equity and reciprocity” in the region, China’s defence minister told his visiting Australian counterpart on Thursday. “A developed, healthy, stable and sustainable relationship between China and Australia could not only meet the basic interests of the two countries but would also favour peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region,” a Chinese defence ministry statement quoted Wei Fenghe as saying to Christopher Pyne. “We hope Australia could walk with China in the same direction and expand communication and cooperation in various areas on the basis of mutual respect, equity and reciprocity.” According to the statement, Pyne told Wei that Australia was willing to push for a “robust, friendly and vital military relations” with China. Pyne said he and Wei expected to sign a memorandum of understanding on expanded military ties on Thursday, before travelling to the port of Guangzhou on Friday to visit the Southern Command of PLA, the authority that oversees operations in the disputed South China Sea. China detains Australian writer in state security investigation Pyne’s visit to Beijing was his first as defence chief and started as China confirmed that Australian writer Yang Hengjun was being held on suspicion of endangering national security. This charge was similar to the allegations made against two Canadians detained last year as Ottawa was caught in rising tensions between China and the United States over the extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. Before his meeting with Wei, Pyne said he would raise Yang’s case with his Chinese counterpart and the Australian government sought to give consular help to Yang, who is under residential detention. “The Australian government is concerned with the residential surveillance of Mr Yang. He is an Australian citizen and we are seeking to provide him with consular help and support to ensure that he is treated fairly and transparently,” Pyne said in Beijing. “There have been meetings between the Australian government and the Chinese government to talk about the situation with Mr Yang, but as yet he has not been provided with consular support.” Australia defends rights after ships challenged in South China Sea While economic ties remain strong, political relations between China and Australia have become complicated over the past two years by growing suspicions that China has interfered in Australian politics and diplomacy, suspicions that Beijing said were groundless. Beijing’s growing engagement in the South Pacific – mostly through financial help – has unsettled Australia, and Beijing reacted strongly when Canberra sent two frigates and an oiler to the South China Sea as part of a “freedom of navigation exercise” in April. Trillions of dollars in trade passes through the waterway each year and China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei have competing claims over the area. Pyne said Australia had “a very firm view” about the waters and would continue to operate ships and aircraft there. “We do not take a position on particular claimants’ requirements for the South China Sea or their claims over the South China Sea, but we do insist that it be treated as international waters and we do not recognise China’s claims over the South China Sea,” he said.