Former ambassador to China says situation surrounding detained journalist Cheng Lei is 'extremely sensitive'

Australian journalist Cheng Lei has been detained in Beijing.

Australian journalist Cheng Lei has been detained in Beijing. Source: Facebook

Australian diplomats are working flat out to unravel the "extremely sensitive" situation surrounding China's shock detention of journalist Cheng Lei, says a former Australian Ambassador to China.

Dr Geoff Raby, who was Australia's ambassador to China between 2007 and 2011, said Ms Cheng was a personal friend and he was "astonished" to hear of her detention.

Ms Cheng, who is an Australian citizen, is a high-profile TV anchor who hosted a business program for China’s government-run English language broadcaster CGTN.

Australian officials working with China to assist detained Australian journalist Cheng Lei

"I've known Cheng Lei for many, many years. She's a very professional, experienced person. She knows the ropes, she knows how to navigate the system. I was astonished," Dr Raby told SBS News.

"As far as I know the Australian government is doing absolutely everything it could and should do. They've been dealing with it for at least two weeks, maybe longer."

Chinese authorities have so far given no explanation for Ms Cheng's detention.

Dr Raby said this silence was not unusual.

"There's a period during which they would be assembling their case, or gauging international reaction and how they wish to handle it," he said.

"This is an extremely sensitive time, which is why I commend the Australian government for how they've handled it so far."

Cheng Lei has been detained in China, according to DFAT.
Source: Twitter

Dr Delia Lin, a senior lecturer in Chinese Studies at Melbourne University, said the targeting of Ms Cheng sent a “chilling message” for other Australians working in China.

Ms Cheng had worked at CGTN for eight years before her arrest, following stints at CNBC Asia in Singapore and China and at CGTN’s predecessor CCTV News.

Her journalism profile on CGTN has since been removed from their website.

“She is known to be a really great bridge between China and Australia,” Dr Lin said. “And is certainly someone who values her experience in Australia and tries to help both nations, and both peoples, to understand one another.”

Dr Lin said the arrest could be a message to the Australian government, which has been facing strained relations with China over recent months. “It does make people wonder, because it’s very unusual that it could be her,” she said.

Published 1 September 2020 at 5:29pm
By Maani Truu, Lin Evlin