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China slaps spying charge on Australian journalist

Australian journalist Cheng Lei charged with spying (Courtesy: @ChengLeiCGTN/Twitter)

Australian TV journalist Cheng Lei, who was put under detention by Chinese authorities in August, has now been formally arrested on charges of supplying state secrets overseas, the Australian government has confirmed. Prior to her detention, Cheng had been a TV presenter for Chinese state media organisation  CGTN.

Australia has repeatedly taken up the issue of Cheng's detention with China as it views it as a violation of basic human rights. "We expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms," said Australia's foreign affairs minister Marise Payne. "Our thoughts are with Ms Cheng and her family during this difficult period."

Cheng had suddenly disappeared from television and cut off contact with friends and relatives in August. China eventually announced she was being held under "residential surveillance" in an unknown location. Australian embassy officials have been able to visit Cheng on six occasions in the past six months in accordance with the bilateral consular agreement between the two countries.

The development comes at a time when relations between Australia and China have deteriorated further after the Covid-19 pandemic triggered by the virus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Australia has been in the forefront in demanding an investigation into the origin of the pandemic as China is seen to be hiding facts.

Australia has also, as part of the Quad alliance with the US, India and Japan,  countered China's belligerent posturing in the Indo-Pacific region. This has ruffled Beijing's feathers as it wants to establish its dominance in the region.