ABC’s Bill Birtles and Australian Financial Review’s Mike Smith found themselves at the center of a stalemate between China and Australia. This happened when the two reporters sought help from Australian officials after Chinese state security approached them.
The two correspondents finally agreed to answer questions and Australian diplomats assured that the men could leave China.
However, on Thursday evening, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian condemned Australia’s decision to shelter the journalists.
He said doing so while the two countries were still in discussions was “interference in China’s internal affairs and judicial sovereignty.”
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He added: “Australia’s actions in organizing the two newspapers to hide in the embassy are completely beyond the scope of consular protection and in fact constitute interference in a Chinese court case.
“This practice is incompatible with the status and identity of the Australian Embassy in China. “
Australian and Chinese officials held talks for several days before Beijing agreed to let the correspondents go in return for their cooperation with the investigation.
Senator Simon Birmingham has spoken out on behalf of the Australian government over accusations of interference from China.
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“We carry out actions in full compliance with our own laws, in a transparent manner, so our agencies are accountable for the way they conduct their operations.”
It comes after Mr. Zhao revealed on Wednesday that four Chinese journalists working in Australia had been attacked.
He said the four journalists had been “questioned on the grounds of a possible violation of Australia’s anti-foreign interference laws”.
The Chinese spokesman said they were asked questions and their phones, computers and even their children’s tablets were seized.
He said, “I would like to stress that Chinese media reporters in Australia strictly observed local laws and regulations.”
Mr. Zhao added that Australia’s actions “seriously interfere with the normal reporting duties of Chinese media … and cause serious damage to the physical and mental health of journalists and their families.”
Liberal Senator James Paterson has cast doubt on whether Chinese journalists should be allowed into federal parliament.
Sen Birmingham argued that the nationality of accredited journalists should not matter as long as they followed the regulations and requirements.
He said: “As far as our parliament is concerned, we should be open to any journalist who meets the standard to be able to be there. “