Canberra announced Monday that an Australian journalist Cheng Li disappeared from Chinese state television six months ago and was detained in Beijing, and was officially arrested on charges of “divulging state secrets abroad.”
On February 5, Australian Foreign Minister Maris Payne said that the Chinese authorities informed her of the arrest of Cheng Li, who had been detained without any justification since August.
“The Chinese authorities said that Cheng had been arrested on suspicion of illegally providing state secrets abroad,” Pine said in a statement.
Cheng was a known face on the screen on English-language CGTN, interviewing entrepreneurs from all over the world.
Born in Hunan, China, she immigrated to Australia as a child before returning to China to work for the official broadcasting network in 2012.
She will face severe punishment if she is found guilty of violating China’s national security law.
Her cousin, Louisa Wayne, told ABC that the family “did not understand anything about the case.”
She added that Cheng’s 11-year-old daughter and her nine-year-old son “do not fully understand the situation,” adding that the situation “is difficult for the two children who are wondering what is happening.”
Cheng’s arrest came as relations between Beijing and Canberra worsened.
The timing of her arrest and the lack of information on the charges against her raised suspicions that the move was politically motivated and retaliatory.
Diplomatic relations deteriorated significantly at the beginning of 2020, after Canberra’s call for an international investigation into the origin of the Coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China.
Australia also says that Beijing has increasing influence in the Asia-Pacific region, and takes over what it considers to be interference in Australian affairs.
China has taken a set of economic retaliatory measures against more than a dozen Australian products, including barley, beef, wine, and charcoal.
Payne said two Australian diplomats have visited the anchor six times since her arrest, the last time on January 27.
“The Australian government has repeatedly expressed, at the highest levels, its serious concerns about Cheng’s detention (…),” she added.
Cheng is the second prominent Australian citizen to be held by China after writer Yang Hengjun was arrested in January 2019 on suspicion of espionage.
Her arrest shocked the foreign journalists working in China.
It is reported that she wrote several posts on Facebook criticizing Chinese President Xi Jinping and the way Beijing dealt with the Corona outbreak.