Australia Raided Homes of Chinese Reporters, Seized Electronics

The breakdown in relations between China and Australia took a new twist, with Beijing accusing Canberra of raiding the homes of Chinese state-media staff in June and seizing their property.

The homes of four Chinese journalists in Australia were raided and the authorities confiscated computers and phones, including electronics belonging to their children, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Wednesday. The statement, which confirmed earlier media reports, comes just days after the last two journalists for Australian media in China fled the country following police questioning.

The Chinese government has made numerous protests about the issue to Australia, Zhao told a regular news briefing in Beijing. The raids were carried out on journalists from Xinhua News Agency, China Media Group and China News Service, he said, and not all the confiscated items have been returned.

A request for comment on the reports to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade wasn’t answered.

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. Among other things, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in April called for independent investigators be allowed into the Chinese city of Wuhan to probe the origins of the coronavirus.

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. On Tuesday, Beijing confirmed that Cheng Lei, an Australian television anchor who had worked for Chinese state media, was being held over suspected state security violations. Australia was informed mid-August that she had been detained.

Earlier this week, the last two correspondents from the Australian media outlets in China fled the country, with the two men reporting that police questioned them about Cheng before they were allowed to leave. The cases of the Australian journalists and Cheng were unrelated to the raids on the Chinese journalists, Zhao said.

China Says Australian TV Anchor Probed Over Security Violations

At least one Chinese journalist in Australia was questioned by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation on June 26, the Sydney Morning Herald reported earlier, citing senior Australian security sources it didn’t identify. The investigation was in connection with an inquiry into a state lawmaker, the paper said.

That was the same day that New South Wales state lawmaker Shaoquett Moselmane had his home and office raided by police. He later said the probe was linked to people allegedly advancing the goals of the Chinese government and denied being a suspect.

The Chinese journalists were drawn into the Australian investigation because they were members of a chat group with a Moselmane staffer, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Two Chinese scholars who were also members of the group had their Australian visas revoked, the ABC said.

The raids were earlier reported by Chinese state media, with China News Service claiming that Australian police eventually found the journalists did nothing wrong. The four journalists have since returned to China, Zhao said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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