Journalist cheered on Q&A over China warning: 'Don't be naive'

The warning comes a month after the Australian mum of two was released from three years of detention in China.

Australian-Chinese journalist Cheng Lei, who was last month released from three years of detention in China, has warned would-be travellers to think twice before planning a trip to the authoritarian nation.

Cheng Lei, 48, was a presenter for the Chinese state-owned English language broadcaster CGTN when she was suddenly taken into custody in August of 2020, accused of "supplying state secrets to foreign organisations".

Though she always maintained her innocence, the journalist spent a total of three years locked away during a secretive legal process that was largely hidden from the public. She was eventually sentenced to time already served and released on October 11, 2023, after much campaigning by the Australian government.

Australian journalist Cheng Lei.
Australian journalist Cheng Lei has warned travellers to be cautious before heading to China. Source: ABC.

Journalist issues warning to Aussies

Speaking on the ABCs Q+A program on Monday night, the Chinese-born, Australian mum of two issued a warning to other Aussies in the wake of claims her incarceration involved "a sophisticated form of torture".

In response to an audience poll where more than half of respondents admitted they would not feel comfortable travelling to China — of which some 8000 people participated — Cheng said people were right be wary.

"China is a very big country, but the China of now, I think, is different to, say, the China I went to in 2000, and then the subsequent decade," she said.

"I think you have to figure out what to be mindful of.

"Right now I'm super wary of anything purporting to be protecting...national security. It's just such a blanket term and I don't want naive people going there. If you are going there, [be] fully educated about the risks."

Cheng Lei doesn't rule out return to China

Asked if she would ever return to China, Cheng, who revealed she was banned from applying for a visa for the next decade, didn't rule it out.

"Never say never, but right now I'm not allowed … and if people want to improve their Mandarin, they could go to Taiwan," she cheekily said, to an outbreak of applause from the studio audience.

Her trial was held in secret and no evidence against her has ever been publicly released or scrutinised.

In an earlier interview with Sky News, Cheng Lei confirmed one allegation made included the sharing of government briefings, which had been provided to media under embargo. The embargo was broken by only "a few minutes", she claimed.

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