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“Secrets of a Foreign Country”: Beijing v. Australian Journalist

Cheng Li She had been arrested since last August. On Monday, as usual with a late explosion, the Chinese authorities officially announced his arrest. The 49-year-old is a journalist, born in the People’s Republic, Ela Australian citizenship, A well-known face of Chinese state television, CGTN, accused of illegally spreading state secrets abroad. Espionage charges are often used by Beijing as a means of political revenge. Australia did not demand the journalist’s release, but did call for “basic standards of fairness” to be respected. Meanwhile, the Beijing Foreign Ministry said it hoped there would be no interference. Diplomatic relations between the two countries are at their lowest level in decades, after the Canberra government launched an international investigation into the origin of the Coronavirus and China responded by imposing very high tariffs on a series of products made in Australia.

The reporter worked for years for the CCTV English Channel in Beijing, which was one of the star announcers. In August, colleagues reported his disappearance and his card suddenly disappeared from the TV website. At the time of his arrest, his two sons, both minors, were spending their summer vacation in Australia. Cheng Li’s family claimed her innocence and asked the authorities to give her a chance to see the children.

Frost between the two countries

The climate between Beijing and Canberra has been getting worse for at least three years. Scott Morrison’s conservative government has implemented a major bilateral policy reform, and was one of the first to ban Huawei from 5G networks, and passed a new law against foreign interference in Australian politics. Last year, the clash escalated further, after Canberra sided with the United States in calling for an investigation into the (Chinese) assets of the Coronavirus. In response, Beijing has effectively blocked many imports from Australia, which is its main trading partner, including wine and meat.

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After Cheng Li disappeared, two Australian reporters in China left the country on the advice of diplomatic authorities, after questioning Chinese police. Thus, for the first time in history, there are no Chinese newspapers in China. Another Australian citizen of Chinese descent, writer, blogger and democratic activist Yang Hengjun, has been detained for two years in the People’s Republic of China for espionage.

Difficult relations even with Canada

The confrontation with Canberra is only one of the open diplomatic fronts for China, which in recent months, while accusations against it on issues such as virus management and human rights have increased, dramatically raised the level of aggression, with words and actions against countries it believes are under attack. Relationships are also very tense with Canada: after the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s founder and the company’s chief financial officer, Beijing has arrested two Canadian citizens on the usual charges of espionage. They have been held for more than two years without any trial having started. But in recent days the clash with the UK has intensified as well: after London’s decision to revoke its broadcasting license for CGTN, China is likely to diversify in retaliation against the British media. Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom are part of the US-led Five Eyes Alliance.

Earl Warner

"Devoted bacon guru. Award-winning explorer. Internet junkie. Web lover."

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