Foreign Minister Marise Payne says high-profile Australian television anchor Cheng Lei, who has been detained in China, is doing as well as can be expected.
- Foreign Minister Marise Payne says Ms Cheng recently spoke to consular officials
- China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said she had “no specific information” about the case
- Ms Cheng is being held under what is called “residential surveillance at a designated location”
Australian consular officials spoke to Ms Cheng just days ago, Foreign Minister Marise Payne told 2GB after confirming Ms Cheng was detained on Monday.
“Our job is to ensure we are providing her with support and consular assistance,” she said.
Chinese officials are yet to explain why the television anchor is being questioned.
In addressing Ms Cheng’s detention for the first time today, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said she had “no specific information” about the matter.
While Ms Cheng has not been charged, she is being held under what is called “residential surveillance at a designated location”.
It’s a form of detention in which investigators can imprison and question a suspect for up to six months before they have even been formally arrested.
During that time, they are cut off from lawyers and the outside world.
Concerns were raised by some of Ms Cheng’s friends when she did not reply to messages in recent weeks.
The news comes as relations between Beijing and Canberra have been strained for months, especially since the Australian Government began pushing for an inquiry into the origins of coronavirus.
Since then, sanctions have been slapped on beef and barley produce coming out of Australia and, more recently, questions have been asked about Australian wine.
Amid the escalation in relations, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade updated its advice in July for Australians in China that they could be at an increased risk of arbitrary detention.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said on Tuesday: “There have always been other points of tension, be they on human rights or other matters.”
“But we continue to be committed to working as closely as we can, and particularly in the areas of mutual interest and advantage for our two nations.”
But according to Ms Payne, she does not believe the detention of Ms Cheng is an attempt to get back at Australia.
Ms Cheng worked as an on-air anchor and reporter for CGTN for the past eight years.
While she mostly covered business news — an area seen to be less overtly political — she was also trusted to present coverage of some of the nation’s most politically sensitive events, including China’s annual political congress.
But since news of her detention was revealed, Ms Cheng’s profile page, which detailed an eight-year career with CGTN, has been removed from the broadcaster’s website, as have videos featuring her previous stories.