09/08/2020, 10.20
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Australian journalists flee Beijing

Chinese police wanted to question Bill Birtles and Michael Smith in Cheng Lei case, the Australian presenter arrested on August 14. Canberra had advised the two reporters to leave China. The tensions between the two countries behind the flight. Beijing’s clamp down on journalists from hostile countries.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Canberra authorities have advised two Australian journalists to leave China immeditaley. This was announced today by Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

Bill Birtles of the ABC and Michael Smith of the Australian Financial Review flew from Shanghai last night: both had found refuge in the diplomatic offices of their country after the Chinese police raided their homes on September 3.

The Chinese law enforcement agencies wanted to ask the two reporters’ questions about Cheng Lei, an Australian presenter who works for the Chinese state television CGTN, who was arrested on August 14. The woman is now "under surveillance in a designated residence". A few days before the raid, the Australian foreign ministry advised Smith and Birtles to leave China.

According to several observers, the pressure on Smith and Birtles, and the arrest of Cheng Lei, are a retaliation by the Chinese government against Australia. Relations between the two countries have deteriorated since Canberra accused Beijing of spying, unfair business practices, violating international norms in the South China Sea, cracking down on dissent in Hong Kong and lying about the coronavirus pandemic.

In January 2019, Beijing had already imprisoned Yang Hengjun, another Australian reporter of Chinese origin: he is charged with espionage.

Foreign journalists, or those who work for publications in countries in poor standing with China are increasingly targeted by the Chinese government.

In recent days, a Los Angeles Times reporter was arrested and then deported from Inner Mongolia as she followed the protests that are shaking China's northern region. In March, Beijing expelled the correspondents of three major US newspapers: a response to the Trump administration's decision to consider some Chinese media operating in the United States as "foreign missions", on a par with diplomatic ones.

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