China has officially arrested an Australian citizen who was a former news anchor for Chinese state television, escalating the case that contributed to tensions between Beijing and Canberra.
Australian Foreign Minister Maryse Payne’s office said in a statement on Monday that Cheng Lee, an Australian of Chinese descent who recently worked for state-run CGTN, was officially arrested in China on February 5 after six months in detention. Chinese authorities advised that Cheng was “arrested on suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets abroad.” The statement said.
China had said in September that QingIt is suspected of its implementation Criminal activities endangering Chinese national security “is among the most serious allegations ever against a foreign journalist residing in the country.
She was detained in mid-August under a ruling that allows her to be held for up to six months without charge or access to a lawyer.
Australian embassy officials have visited Cheng six times since her detention – most recently on January 27 – according to a bilateral consular agreement with China, The statement said.
“Australia has expressed grave concern about Ms. Cheng being regularly detained at higher levels, including about her welfare and conditions of detention,” The statement said. “We expect that basic standards of fairness and fairness in humane procedures and treatment, in accordance with international standards, will be met.”
The case was exposed amid deteriorating relations between China and Australia, raising concerns that Beijing had targeted Cheng to put pressure on Canberra. Tensions were exacerbated after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government called for an independent investigation into the origin of the coronavirus in April, a move seen in China as supporting US President Donald Trump’s efforts to blame it for the pandemic.
The government of Chinese President Xi Jinping has imposed tariffs on Australian barley, banned products from a number of meat factories, and launched an anti-dumping investigation into wine exports. However, China remains Australia’s largest trading partner, driven by the nation’s desire for resources like iron ore and coal.
Cheng has hosted commercial shows as a broadcaster for CGTN since 2012 and has been well known among the small circle of diplomats and journalists in Beijing. She previously worked as a reporter for CNBC in China, after graduating from The University of Queensland with a BA in Commerce and worked as an accountant at Cadbury Schweppes, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Cheng’s detention also coincided with a specific dispute between Australia and China over each other’s spy agencies’ efforts to interrogate foreign journalists. China withdrew four government media journalists from Australia after authorities raided their homes, while two Australian reporters left China after state security officials requested them for questioning.
Mike Smith, an Australian journalist, of the Australian Financial Review, said in September that Chinese officials had asked him about Cheng, among other things, before allowing him to leave. Separately, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that the Australian journalists’ and Qing cases had nothing to do with the raiding of the homes of Chinese journalists.
– With the help of Jason Scott and James Majer