China has detained an Australian news anchor working for its state-run English-language television network CGTN, Australia’s foreign minister said on Monday.

The detention of journalist Cheng Lei is a new blow to deteriorating relations between the two countries that have seen China warn its citizens of travelling to Australia and vice-versa.

Cheng Lei. Photo Australia Global Alumni, via YouTube.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia was informed on August 14 that Cheng was being held by Beijing authorities.

Australian consular officials spoke to Cheng in her detention facility via video link on August 27 and were in touch with her family, Payne said in a statement.

She provided no further details, but public broadcaster ABC said Cheng’s friends became concerned after she stopped responding to messages in recent weeks.

The CGTN website page which described Cheng as an anchor on the network’s Global Business programme was no longer available after news of her detention emerged.

The ABC said Cheng was being held under “residential surveillance at a designated location”, a form of detention that allows investigators to hold and question a suspect for up to six months without them being formally arrested.

The broadcaster published a statement by Cheng’s family in Melbourne expressing confidence that “In China, due process will be observed and we look forward to a satisfactory and timely conclusion to the matter.”

Australian Parliament, Canberra. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“We ask that you respect that process and understand there will be no further comment at this time,” the statement said.

Ties began to sour between Australia and China — its biggest trading partner — more than two years ago when Australian authorities began to move against what was seen as China’s growing political interference and influence peddling in the country.

Beijing was particularly infuriated by Australia’s leading role in international calls earlier this year for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Since then, China has taken steps to curb key Australian imports and encouraged Chinese students and tourists to avoid the country. 

Cheng is the second high-profile Australian citizen to be detained in Beijing after writer Yang Hengjun was arrested in January 2019 on suspicion of espionage.

Earlier this year Australia warned its citizens they faced the risk of arbitrary detention if they traveled to China.

Latest

AFP is a global news agency delivering fast, in-depth coverage of the events shaping our world from wars and conflicts to politics, sports, entertainment and the latest breakthroughs in health, science and technology.