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Tensions soar as China arrests Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei for allegedly ‘passing state secrets overseas’

Canberra/Beijing: China, which has been threatening Australia since the change of guard in the United States, has stepped up its aggression. China’s ruling Communist regime has warned its nationals studying in Australia to be aware of the potential dangers before going there for education. Immediately after that, Cheng Lei, an Australian TV anchor working for a Chinese news channel, has been arrested on suspicion of spying.  

Relations between Australia and China have been deteriorating over the past two years. The Chinese regime has been interfering in Australia’s affairs significantly. The effects of its growing influence in finance, trade, investment, education, as even directly in politics, have been exposed. As China is one of Australia’s largest trading partners, the Australian leadership had taken a soft stance in the early days. Nevertheless, under Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s direction, the Australian administration openly imposed sanctions and began taking a more assertive and aggressive stance against China.  

The Australian government has passed several laws to prevent Chinese interference. It has started to demonstrate its opposition to China’s actions on various issues ranging from 5G to coronavirus. Besides, the Morrison government’s assertive stance received support from the United States and other countries as well. Former US President Donald Trump backed and even praised the Morrison government’s decisions against China. Unsettled, China began to pressurise Australia. The events of the last three days show how China’s policy on Australia has become more aggressive after the change of power in the United States.  

On Friday, China’s Ministry of Education issued a ‘warning’ for Chinese students studying in Australia. The Chinese nationals were instructed that ‘A serious of vicious attacks on foreign students have been reported in several Australian cities. At the same time, the pandemic also makes international travel risky. Therefore, students who are going to or returning for study to Australia from China should be aware of the potential dangers.’ In the last eight months, this is the second time China has issued such a warning to Australia. Earlier in June, the Chinese Ministry of Tourism had issued an alert for its citizens to avoid travelling to Australia, citing racial discrimination and violence in the country. In response, Australia had rejected all of China’s claims, calling them baseless. Australia has also reacted sharply to the warning issued on Friday, criticising China’s regime for spreading disinformation.   

After the criticism, China delivered another blow to Australia on Monday. Cheng Lei, an Australian news reporter whom Chinese authorities had detained in August, was arrested on suspicion of espionage. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne made the revelation on Monday. ‘The Chinese authorities have informed that Cheng Lei has been arrested on suspicion of supplying state secrets overseas,’ Payne said in a statement. Furthermore, China had said it had detained Cheng in a statement released in August.  

The Australian Foreign Minister also said that Australian officials in China met with Cheng Lei on January 27. Foreign Minister Payne said Australia was deeply concerned about China’s stance. For the past few years, Cheng Lei has been working for the Chinese government’s English-language news channel CGTN.  

Last year, China had detained Australian citizen Dr Yang Hengjun and charged him with espionage. Now, tensions between Australia and China have increasingly worsened since Cheng arrest. 

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