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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

The Albanese government has formally expressed its displeasure to the Chinese embassy over Chinese officials trying to impede camera shots of journalist Cheng Lei during Premier Li Qiang’s visit to Canberra this week.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the ABC on Tuesday: “When you look at the footage, it was a pretty clumsy attempt […] by a couple of people to stand in between where the cameras were and where Cheng Lei was sitting”.

Albanese said Australian officials had intervened to ask the Chinese officials to move, “and they did so.” Australian officials had “followed up with the Chinese embassy to express our concern,” he said.

The incident on Monday took place when Albanese and Li were together at an agreement-signing event at parliament house in Canberra.

At his press conference later on Monday, which Cheng attended, Albanese said he was “not aware” of the incident. The opposition questioned his response.

On Tuesday, he said Cheng, who works for Sky, was “a very professional journalist. And there should be no impediments to Australian journalists going about their job. And we’ve made that clear to the Chinese embassy.”

Opposition leader Peter Dutton welcomed the government raising the issue with the embassy. But he said: “I do want to point out that the prime minister clearly misled the Australian people yesterday when he got up and did a press conference and said that he heard nothing of it […] it’s completely inconceivable”.

Meanwhile, Albanese has indicated he believes there is no impediment to media organisations again posting correspondents to China.

The China correspondent for The Australian Financial Review, Mike Smith, and the ABC’s correspondent, Bill Birtles, were forced out in 2020.

They left after Chinese security officials visited their homes late at night, telling them they needed to be questioned over “a national security case”. Before departing, they spent several days under Australian diplomatic protection, while negotiations between officials of the two countries for their departure took place.

This followed immediately after the Chinese government confirmed Cheng’s detention in Beijing. She was later tried in secret for what she said was breaking an embargo on a story by a few minutes. She was released only last year.

Asked on Monday whether he had raised the question of the Australian media getting back into China, Albanese said he’d done so in his China visit late last year.

“The Chinese side say that they are willing to grant that access. And speaking to some media organisations as well, it’s a matter of whether they wish to send people in there. I think that is the point,” he said.

A spokesman for the ABC said, “The ABC remains very interested in basing a correspondent in China”.

Albanese and Li both attended a business round table in Perth on Tuesday. In an opinion piece in Tuesday’s West Australian newspaper, Albanese writes,

China is Australia’s largest trading partner and three-quarters of Australia’s exports to China, come from here in WA. Furthermore, nearly 60 per cent of everything that WA exports, goes to China.

Also Tuesday, the Chinese state-run Global Times newspaper printed an editorial declaring a “spring blossom” in China-Australia relations now that Australia’s foreign policy has gone back to “serving its own national interests”.

The newspaper made an indirect reference to the United States, saying countries like Australia had been under the influence of a “Cold War mindset” that prioritised “de-risking” and “decoupling” from China. But, it added:

Australia is now back on the relatively correct path after weighing the created geopolitical anxiety and the self-development interests. It should also give other countries a wake-up call.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Albanese government raises ‘concern’ over treatment of journalist Cheng Lei with Chinese embassy –,2011:article/232711