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Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson's Remarks

2020-09-11

Journalist: The Sydney Morning Herald reported that senior Australian government sources said Australian intelligence agency's questioning of Chinese journalists was normal procedure and it shouldn't be compared with the treatment of Smith and Birtles who had been forced out of China. The Australian side also accused China of resorting to extreme means of hostage diplomacy. Besides, The Australian's China correspondent, Will Glasgow, was originally due to return to Beijing this Sunday, but the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) told him to put it off for one week for now. Does China have any comment?

Zhao Lijian: The Australian side describes its "questioning" of Chinese journalists as normal procedure, but accuses the Chinese side of engaging in "hostage diplomacy". It fully revealed some Australians' unfounded sense of superiority, hypocrisy and double standards.

As I recounted yesterday, one early morning in late June this year, Australian security and intelligence staff raided, searched and questioned four Australia-based journalists working for the Xinhua News Agency, China Media Group and China News Service on the ground of possible violation of foreign interference laws, seizing their working computers and mobile phones, and even educational tablets and electronic toys for children. The Chinese journalists were threatened, intimidated and not allowed to contact the local China's consulate-general. It caused serious damage to the physical and mental health of the journalists and their families. The Australian side has not yet provided reasonable explanation for searching these journalists or returned all seized items. Is this what the Australian side call normal questioning?

As to the two Australian journalists, the relevant departments in China, during their investigation of a case, questioned the two journalists in accordance with law. These were normal law enforcement activities. Allegation of "hostage diplomacy" is totally groundless.

With regard to the allegation that the two Australian journalists were "forced out of China", can they tell us who, from which Chinese department, at what time forced them out? According to Australian media reports and public account by one of the two journalists, it is the Australian embassy that asked them to leave China as soon as possible and arranged their stay in the Australian diplomatic premises after Chinese authorities asked for their cooperation in investigation. These went above and beyond the scope of consular protection. In essence, they amount to disruption in the Chinese side's lawful investigation and interference in China's domestic affairs and judicial sovereignty. Australian foreign minister Payne already said publicly that the Australian government assisted the two journalists' return to Australia. The Australian side must come clean with what roles DFAT and the Australian embassy in China played in this process.

As to the Australian journalist Will Glasgow's return to China, the facts are back in June, he contacted my colleagues, saying that he needed to go back to Australia for vacation and hoped to return to China very soon after attending to his personal matters. He handed his visa applications for his return in August and the Chinese side made special arrangements and smoothed things out for his and his family members' return. He was planning to fly back to China this weekend. It was the Australian side that asked him to delay his travel.

I want to stress that the Australian side arbitrarily searched the Chinese media journalists stationed in Australia without providing any evidence to justify their doing so, which has severely disrupted the normal reporting activities of these Chinese media in Australia, grossly violated the legitimate and lawful rights and interests of these journalists, and fully exposed the hypocrisy of those people in Australia who have the audacity to assert that they are for "press freedom" and "respect and protection of human rights". The Australian Embassy in China wantonly obstructed and disrupted the normal law enforcement activities of the Chinese side by sheltering and helping the relevant journalists evading China's investigations. Such an action is incompatible with the status and functions of the mission.

We urge the Australian side to respect basic facts, stop using whatever excuses to harass and suppress Chinese staff in Australia, stop getting in the way of relevant Chinese departments and their law enforcement activities, and stop undermining bilateral people-to-people and cultural exchanges and damaging mutual trust.

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