Two Australian journalists working in China for their country’s media outlets were “forced out” and have returned to Sydney following a diplomatic standoff.The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Bill Birtles, correspondent of the ABC in Beijing, and Michael Smith, the Australian Financial Review’s Shanghai-based correspondent returned to Sydney on Monday after living for five days “under protection” in the Canberra’s diplomatic missions in the country According to the report, the two journalists had to leave after a “diplomatic stand-off in which police demanded an interview with both reporters.”
The duo were forced to seek the protection of Australia’s diplomatic mission after the Chinese security officers visited them on Wednesday last week and told them that they were “persons of interest in a national security case.”Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne put out a statement today saying that the Australian Government has provided consular support to two Australian journalists in China to assist their return to Australia and engaged with Chinese Government authorities to ensure their wellbeing and return to Australia.
It further said that Australia’s current travel advice for China warning Australians that they could be at increased risk of arbitrary detention and which was updated on July 7, remains appropriate and unchanged. “We encourage all Australians who are overseas, or are seeking to travel, to closely monitor Smartraveller,” it said.The Foreign Minister further said that Canberra continues to provide consular support to Australian citizens detained in China, including Cheng Lei.
“We are unable to provide further comment owing to privacy obligations,” she said.Last month, Australian television anchor Cheng Lei working with CGTN, China’s state-run news channel, was detained “in a highly sensitive case.”A statement by Foreign Minister Marise Payne confirmed Cheng Lei was being held by authorities in the Chinese capital and Australian diplomats were permitted to speak to her last week via video conference, reported ABC. The statement informed that formal notification was received on August 14 from Chinese authorities regarding Lei’s detention.
Relations between China and Australia have deteriorated the in recent times over a series of issues including trade issues.Lei has not been charged but is being held under what is called “residential surveillance at a designated location”, a form of detention in which investigators can imprison and question a suspect for up to six months while cutting them off from lawyers and the outside world.
She is the second Australian, after writer and former Chinese Government employee Yang Hengjun, to be detained in Beijing.Yang, who is under an espionage investigation was taken by authorities in January 2019.