Business & Economy

China defends arrest of Australian journalist as lawful

(Update 1: adds fresh info, changes dateline, headline, lede)

Beijing, Sep 1 (EFE).- China said on Tuesday that it acted according to the law in detaining Australian journalist Cheng Lei in Beijing, a day after Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne had announced the arrest.

In a press briefing on Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying refused to divulge information about the case but emphasized that China was a country that “managed everything according to the law.”

On Monday night, Payne had announced that Canberra had been informed of the Chinese-origin TV host’s arrest in mid-August and Australian officials had a consular visit with her via video-conferencing on Aug. 27.

Australian state broadcaster ABC reported that Cheng – who has worked with Chinese international broadcaster CGTN for eight years – had not been charged yet

According to ABC, Cheng is being held under “residential surveillance” at an unknown “designated location”, which allows the authorities to keep detainees in secretive custody for up to six months and deny visits by family members or lawyers.

The journalist’s arrest could potentially further deteriorate the already frosty ties between the two countries, especially after Australia launched an investigation into Beijing’s handling of Covid-19 earlier this year, leading to an exchange of trade restrictions between the two countries.

Moreover, Beijing has been irked by recent laws approved by Canberra against espionage and alleged meddling in its domestic affairs.

Hua said on Tuesday that while China considered bilateral ties with Australia important, efforts were needed from “both sides” in order to make progress.

Responding to an earlier question, the spokesperson remarked that Australia was a “close ally of the US,” and its people seemed to have been affected by “anti-China paranoia” for some time.

In a similar vein, Chinese state newspaper Global Times in an opinion piece on Tuesday accused Australia of “giving up the opportunity to think and act independently” and attaching itself to the “US anti-China chariot with alarmist rhetoric.”

The article called this a “wrong approach to deal with China” and warned of “far-reaching consequences.”

“In the past decade, China has been Australia’s largest trading partner, and this market is difficult to replace.”

Cheng’s arrest comes after Chinese-Australian writer, academic, blogger, and former Beijing official Yang Hengjun was held in January last year during his stopover in the Chinese city of Canton.

Yang was formally charged with espionage on Aug. 23 last year and faces a maximum punishment of death if convicted, in a country known to have an opaque judicial system and a long history of arresting dissidents. EFE


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