Sep 8, 2020 - World

Australian journalists flown back from China after "diplomatic standoff"

Two Australian journalists arrived home Tuesday after being flown from China, where they were forced to seek diplomatic refuge following "threatening behaviour from Chinese officials," per the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Driving the news: During a five-day "diplomatic standoff," authorities told the ABC's Bill Birtles and the Australian Financial Review's Michael Smith they were "persons of interest in an investigation" into Australian Cheng Lei, who was an anchor for state broadcaster CGTN before being detained without charge last month, the AFR notes.

  • Birtles was booked to leave Beijing last Thursday. But seven police officers visited his apartment the night before as he was having a farewell party and told him he wasn't allowed to leave, according to the ABC. He fled to the Australian Embassy.
  • Meanwhile, Smith sought refuge in the Australian Consulate in Shanghai following a police visit the same night.
  • The last two journalists working for Australian media in China were allowed to leave the country after being interviewed by police in the company Australian diplomats.

The big picture: Relations between China and Australia have deteriorated in recent years, with the Australian government passing legislation to prevent foreign interference amid concerns of Chinese influence on domestic politics.

What they're saying: AFR editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury and editor Paul Bailey said in a joint statement, "This incident targeting two journalists, who were going about their normal reporting duties, is both regrettable and disturbing and is not in the interests of a cooperative relationship between Australia and China."

  • Smith told the AFR after arriving in Sydney, "The late-night visit by police at my home was intimidating and unnecessary and highlights the pressure all foreign journalists are under in China right now."
  • China has yet to comment on the matter, but Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne described the situation to 2GB as a "very disappointing series of events."

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