News anchor Cheng Lei ‘endangered national security’, says China

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Australian news anchor Cheng Lei was arrested in Beijing on national security grounds last month, China’s foreign ministry spokesman has revealed.

Cheng, a business journalist for the state broadcaster CGChina Global Television Network (CGTN), is suspected of “criminal activity endangering China’s national security”.

She has been taken into secretive detention since August 14.

The announcement comes after the last two journalists working for Australian media in China flew home to Sydney after a five-day diplomatic stand-off.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Bill Birtles and the Australian Financial Review’s (AFR) Mike Smith landed in Sydney on Tuesday.

Chinese authorities questioned both men before their departure. Mr. Birtles told the BBC he was questioned about Ms. Cheng.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said on Monday a record 17 foreign journalists had been expelled from the country in the first half of 2020.

An Australian citizen based in Beijing, Ms Cheng is a high-profile, respected business journalist for English-language channel CGTN.

In August she suddenly disappeared from television and cut off contact with friends and relatives. China eventually announced she was being held under “residential surveillance” in an unknown location.

No charges were announced at the time. But now foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the government detained her on “national security grounds”, saying authorities had taken “compulsory measures” against her. An investigation is now under way, he added.

The spokesman gave no details about the accusations, and it is unclear what “criminal activity” she is alleged to have committed.

But at the time of her detention some believed her Australian nationality may have been a factor, amid increasingly poor relations between Beijing and Canberra.

The countries rely heavily on each other for trade, but their relationship has soured in recent years, amid allegations of Chinese interference in Australian society.

Ties have deteriorated further this year after Canberra backed an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.

In actions widely viewed as retaliatory, Beijing has since imposed restrictions on Australian exports such as beef, barley and wine. It has also warned Chinese tourists and students about racism in Australia.

In July, Australia warned its citizens they may face “arbitrary detention” in China – a travel warning that remains in place.

Canberra has also expressed concerns about human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and urged China to release detained Australians such as Yang Hengjun, a democracy activist who has been held for 19 months without trial. (Source: BBC)

 

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