Australian anchor on Chinese TV detained in China

Chinese authorities have detained an Australian citizen working as a high-profile TV anchor, as relations between the two countries deteriorate.

Australia’s foreign ministry said Cheng Lei, an anchor for Chinese broadcaster CGTN, was detained two weeks ago.

Foreign minister Marise Payne said a virtual consular visit had been held with Ms Cheng via video link.

Australia’s government warned its citizens in July that they were at increased risk of detention in China.

Tensions between the two nations have escalated in recent months, after Australia led calls for an official investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in China.

On Monday China announced a secondĀ investigation into imports of Australian wine. Last week, Australia’s federal government said it planned to enact legislation which would allow it to cancel local government deals with foreign countries – a move widely seen as aimed at China.

Ms Cheng is being held under “residential surveillance at a designated location”, according to ABC News. Investigators can question and imprison a suspect for up to six months without charge.

However Beijing is yet to confirm her status.

Australia’s foreign ministry was given notification of her detention on 14 August.
“Australian officials had an initial consular visit with Ms Cheng at a detention facility via video link on 27 August and will continue to provide assistance and support to her family,” a statement from the ministry said.

Ms Cheng has two young children in Australia. ABC News said friends and family hadn’t heard from her in recent weeks.

A statement from her family said it hoped for “a satisfactory and timely conclusion” and was in close consultation with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

CGTN (China Global Television Network), is an international English-language news channel owned by China Central Television (CCTV), a state-run broadcaster.

Controlled by China’s ruling Communist Party, CGTN is aimed at audiences abroad. The Lowy Institute think tank said the Chinese government uses CGTN to “help shape positive global opinion” of the country and “increase its soft power around the world”.
Ms Cheng has worked for CGTN for eight years and presented a show on global business for the network. Previously, she was CNBC Asia’s China correspondent.

After her detention, Ms Cheng’s profile on CGTN’s website was removed along with several of her articles.

In January 2019, China detained Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun for allegedly endangering China’s national security. He remains in detention. (Courtesy BBC)