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Cheng Lei: Chinese officials try to block former journalist arrested March goodwill tour of Australia

Cheng Lei: Chinese officials try to block former journalist arrested March goodwill tour of Australia
Cheng Lei: Chinese officials try to block former journalist arrested March goodwill tour of Australia

 




CNN

Chinese Premier Li Qiangs four-day visit to Australia this week would focus on repairing long-strained relations between the two countries. But the apparent efforts of Chinese officials to stand up to an Australian journalist during a press conference has put a spotlight on friction between the countries.

Cheng Lei, a TV anchor who was held in detention in China for more than three years before her release in 2023, said Sky News Australia officials went to great lengths to block him from the cameras during a press event on Monday where Li and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signed cooperation agreements.

Video footage appears to show two people involved in the incident, with one of them, described by media as a Chinese embassy employee, at one point trying to approach a seated Cheng, despite being blocked by another woman , identified by Sky News. as an Australian official steps in to give him space.

I think it's just to prevent me from saying something or doing something that they think would be a bad look, but which itself was a bad look, Cheng told Sky News, where she is employed as news anchor and columnist as of late. last year.

Cheng added that such behavior was typical as Chinese officials would not want voices of dissent or the presence of someone who is slightly controversial when they intend to present a friendly facade.

Many media outlets were also present at the press conference, including Guardian AND Daily Telegraphreported the same details.

CNN has sought comment from the Chinese embassy in Canberra.

China's security state maintains tight control over media and information inside the country, with officials not subject to the kind of tough questioning common to democratic countries.

Beijing has also long been condemned by Western countries and rights groups for wrongful and arbitrary bans.

Cheng, previously a business anchor for China's state broadcaster CGTN, was arrested by Chinese authorities in August 2020 on murky espionage charges that came as diplomatic tensions were escalating between Beijing and Canberra.

The mother-of-two spent more than three years in detention before being released from Beijing and returning home to her family in October, weeks before Albanese made the first visit by an Australian leader to China in seven years.

Speaking to Sky News ahead of the press conference on Monday, Cheng said it was a very emotional day for him to cover the big visit.

“Of course, the fact that one minute I'm sitting in prison and I'm getting up as the subject of these visits, then the next minute I'm covering the visit, is proof of how wonderful freedom and democracy is,” she said.

Cheng's detention had been a deep point of contention between the two governments, as had been the imprisonment of writer and democracy activist Yang Hengjun, an Australian citizen who earlier this year was sentenced to death for espionage after years in detention. Yang has denied the charges, which rights groups have said are politically motivated.

Albanese said he raised Yangs case with Li, but declined to provide an update on the health of the democracy activist, who has said he fears he may die in prison due to health problems.

When asked during a press conference later about Cheng being blocked by officials during the signing of the document, Albanese said he did not see the incident described, but added that it was important that people be allowed to participate fully and this is what should happen in this building or anywhere. other in Australia.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese shake hands during a signing ceremony in Canberra on June 17.

Pandas and visas

The situation on Monday stands as a stark reminder of Beijing-Canberra tensions and deep concerns within Australia, a staunch US ally, about China's authoritarianism amid a trip that was otherwise intended to instill goodwill.

Li's four-day visit, official no. 2 by China, to Australia is the highest-level trip to a US ally by any Chinese official in seven years. It comes as the two countries have made progress in mending deep tensions over issues of trade, security and Beijing's alleged political influence in Australia and the South Pacific.

Speaking alongside Li after the signing ceremony, Albanese called the visit another important step in stabilizing relations.

The Chinese premier, speaking through an interpreter, pledged that China would work with Australia in a spirit of mutual respect, seeking common ground while pointing out differences and mutual benefits.

Li announced on Sunday that China will provide a new pair of giant pandas to South Australia's Adelaide Zoo after the current pair return to China later this year, extending a classic gesture of friendship from China often called panda diplomacy.

China will also add Australia to its visa waiver program, Li said on Monday.

The details were not immediately announced but follow similar visa deals with other countries in recent months as China tries to attract more international tourists to boost its flagship economy after years of Covid-19 border restrictions. Li announced a waiver scheme for New Zealand during a visit there on Friday.

The two leaders agreed to greater military-to-military communication, according to Albanese.

The agreement comes after recent close meetings between the two powers. In May, a Chinese warplane fired flares into the path of an Australian helicopter over the Yellow Sea, an action Albanians condemned at the time as completely unacceptable.

Lis Australia's visit comes as China gradually lifted a number of damaging trade controls it placed on key Australian imports, including beef, barley, timber, coal and wine from 2020, after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an investigation international on the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic in China.

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