Under ‘residential surveillance’ . . .
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on August 31 that Cheng Lei, an Australian anchor for the Chinese state-television CGTN, was detained in Beijing. Australian authorities were informed of Cheng’s arrest two weeks ago but only made the news public on Monday. Lei has not been charged but is held on “residential surveillance,” where authorities can detain suspects for up to six months without access to lawyers. Consular officials made an initial visit with Cheng last week via video link. Beijing has not commented on Cheng’s arrest at the time of writing, although her profile on CGTN’s website was removed following her detention.
Australians detained in China . . .
Cheng’s arrest follows China’s detention of pro-democracy Chinese-Australian activist Dr. Yang Hengjun in January 2019. Like Cheng, authorities initially held Yang authorities under “residential surveillance” on suspicion of endangering Chinese national security. He was charged with espionage in March 2020. Unlike Cheng, Chinese authorities denied Yang consular visits and access to a lawyer, citing COVID-19 concerns. In response to Yang’s arrest, the Australian government issued a travel advisory against China in July this year, warning its citizens that they may face “arbitrary detention” in the Middle Kingdom.
Canberra looks for options as Sino-Australian tensions escalate . . .
Beijing’s latest move came amidst already icy bilateral relations between Beijing and Canberra. China imposed sanctions on Australian barley, beef, and wine earlier this year, following Australia’s call for an independent investigation on the origin of the COVID-19 outbreak. While China is Australia’s top export destination and accounted for C$132 billion of its exports in 2018, Canberra has been trying to limit its dependence on the Chinese market, for instance, by engaging in discussions with India and Japan to form the “Supply Chain Resilience Initiative.” Domestically, the Australian federal government is pushing to limit Australian states’ ability to enter into major international agreements following the state of Victoria’s recent decision to sign onto China’s Belt and Road Initiative.