The Australian government questioned at least one Chinese journalist in Australia in late June, according to reports in Chinese and Australian media, amid heightened tensions between the trading partners.
At least one Chinese journalist in Australia was questioned by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization on June 26, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Wednesday, citing senior Australian security sources it didn’t identify. This was in connection with the investigation of a state lawmaker, the sources said.
New South Wales state lawmaker Shaoquett Moselmane had his home and office raided by police on June 26. He later said the probe was linked to people allegedly advancing the goals of the Chinese government, and denied being a suspect.
China’s state media earlier reported that intelligence officials raided the residences of Chinese journalists based in Australia. The Global Times reported the journalists were questioned and their computers and phones seized, citing a source close to the matter that it didn’t identify. The official Xinhua News Agency had a similar article, while the China News Service said the homes of four journalists from three Chinese media outlets were raided by Australian police on June 26, who eventually found they did nothing wrong.
In response to questions about the case, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Canberra confirmed that it had provided consular assistance to journalists and had “made representations with relevant Australian authorities to safeguard legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens.”
A request for comment on the reports to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade wasn’t immediately answered.
The reports come after China confirmed that Cheng Lei, an Australian television anchor, was being held over suspected state security violations hours after the last two correspondents from the country’s media outlets fled the country. Australia was informed mid-August that she had been detained.
The two journalists reported that police questioned them about Cheng before they were allowed to leave. China handled the reporters’ cases in according with the law, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday.
While those issues highlight the mounting political pressures on foreign press corps operating in China, they also underscore fraying ties between Beijing and Canberra after Prime Minister Scott Morrison in April called for independent investigators be allowed into Wuhan to probe the origins of the coronavirus.
Australia has been locked in a tussle over a series of diplomatic moves that China has interpreted as supporting the U.S. in the expanding trade and security dispute between Beijing and Washington. The media are only the latest sector to get swept up in the fight, after China curbed or launched trade actions against imports of Australian beef, wine and barley.