China has arrested Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist of Chinese descent, for threatening the country’s national security. The journalist faced six months of detention in China after she was first taken in on August 14. The Australian foreign minister, Marise Payne, revealed that her office was notified of the arrest and her Chinese counterpart said Lei was giving out national security secrets to foreigners, Bloomberg reports.
Cheng’s detention started in August and China made a provision that she could be detained for up to six months before formal charges are brought against her. Beijing said that it has discovered that Lei was involved in activities that could threaten the country’s security, a charge that is one of the most extreme allegations ever brought against foreign media personalities in the country.
Payne said that Australia has advocated for fair, humane, and just treatment of Lei several times, and the country’s embassy administrators have also paid visits to her in detention.
“Our judicial councils did not contravene any law in the conduct of the case against Ms. Cheng,” Wang Wenbin, a representative of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated. “We expect that Australia will honor the authority and legitimacy of our judicial councils and stop its interference in the case.”
Wang also discussed the case against another journalist, Haze Fan, who was detained on similar charges in December. The spokesperson said that the journalist’s activities are still being investigated. Before her detention, Lei worked for CGTN, a Chinese owned media outlet. Her arrest has started speculations that China is using her to get back at Australia for hinting that China is to blame for the COVID-19 pandemic, CNN writes.
Last April, the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, supported an autonomous investigation into the cause of the virus, a move that China took as Australia trying to blame it for the virus. In retaliation, Xi Jinping, the president of the Asian country, placed heavy restrictions on exports from Australia, though China continues to depend on the country for about 60% of its iron ore imports.
Lei has made quite a name for herself amongst the top journalists in Beijing. She joined CGTN’s business segment in 2012 and previously worked with CNBC as a Chinese correspondent. Her detention also overlapped another type of scuffle between the two countries. The two countries have had to call back their journalists from the other country after each country’s intelligence agencies questioned the other country’s journalists.
China had to withdraw four of its journalists after the Australian intelligence agency searched their homes while two Australian journalists were also taken in China for questioning. Mike Smith, the second Australian journalist that was questioned in China, revealed that the Asian country’s officials asked for information about Lei and other issues before he was released.