Questioning of Australian journalists is part of ‘normal law enforcement,’ Beijing says

China’s Foreign Ministry has said that the questioning of two Australian journalists was a normal enforcement of the rules and warned that foreign media must “obey Chinese laws.”

Authorities strictly adhered to the law during their investigations, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday. China hopes Australia can work with Beijing to enhance mutual trust and expand cooperation, the spokesman added.

The statement came after two Australian foreign correspondents were evacuated from China with the help of Australian consular officials. Before leaving the country, they had been questioned by China’s Ministry of State Security.

The correspondents for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Australian Financial Review (AFR) were rushed out of China “for their safety,” their employers said on Tuesday. The reporters had sought shelter in Australia’s embassy in Beijing and consulate in Shanghai as diplomats negotiated with Chinese officials to allow them to leave the country.

ABC’s Bill Birtles and AFR’s Michael Smith had been banned from leaving China until they answered questions about detained Australian citizen and television anchor Cheng Lei, according to the media companies.

Cheng, a business anchor on the English-language channel CGTN, was detained three weeks ago, and videos of her had been removed from Chinese websites, Reuters said. The journalist is suspected of “carrying out illegal activities that endanger the country’s security,” Zhao said.

This case is being handled “according to law and Cheng’s legitimate rights and interests are fully guaranteed,” the spokesman added.

The relations between the two states has sharply deteriorated recently after Canberra called for an international inquiry into the origin of Covid-19.

Birtles and Smith were the last two journalists working for Australian media in China, according to the AP news agency. Birtles said he knew Cheng, “but not especially well,” while Smith had “met her once.”

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