Chinese Officials’ Viral Moment Casts Shadow on Australia Visit

(Bloomberg) -- An attempt by Chinese officials to block journalist and former detainee Cheng Lei has threatened to overshadow a visit to Australia by Premier Li Qiang, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese saying he was concerned by the behavior.

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Cheng was attending the signing ceremony between Albanese and Li following their official meeting in Canberra on Monday, in her capacity as a reporter working for Sky News. However, when the network attempted to take pan shots of Cheng and Li in the same room, Chinese officials tried to stand between the camera and the premier.

Australian officials attempted to move them out of the way. In the end, Cheng stayed in the room for the entire event and asked questions of Albanese at a press conference afterward.

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Wednesday morning, Albanese said he was concerned about the behavior of the Chinese officials, describing it as a “pretty clumsy attempt.”

“Our officials have followed up with the Chinese Embassy to express our concern,” he said, describing Cheng as “a very decent human being and 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,” he added.

Cheng was detained by the Chinese government in 2020 while working as a journalist in Beijing and held for almost three years before she was released in October 2023 after pleading guilty to passing national secrets to an overseas institution.

Her release was taken as a sign of warming relations between Canberra and Beijing after a long period of chilly ties, which saw Australia accuse China of foreign interference and a crackdown on exports.

The showdown has threatened to overshadow the first visit to Australia by a Chinese premier in more than seven years, which has seen the two sides sign pacts to improve cooperation and an agreement to boost military-to-military communication.

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