Australian Foreign Ministry Confirms Journalist Cheng Lei Will Face Trial in Beijing

Australian Foreign Ministry Confirms Journalist Cheng Lei Will Face Trial in Beijing
Australian journalist Cheng Lei is seen on a television set in Beijing, China, in this still image taken from undated video footage. (Australia Global Alumni-Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/Handout via Reuters)
Caden Pearson

Australia’s foreign ministry has confirmed that Australian journalist Cheng Lei will face trial in China on March 31, after media outlets reported on March 26 on the upcoming trial date, citing their own sources.

“The Australian Government has regularly raised serious concerns about Ms. Cheng’s welfare and conditions of detention. Our officials have visited her regularly, most recently on 21 March,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a March 26 statement.

“We expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness, and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms. We have asked also that Australian officials be permitted to attend Ms. Cheng’s hearing on 31 March, in line with China’s obligations under the Australia–China bilateral consular agreement.”

Cheng was formally arrested in China on Feb. 5, 2021, on suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas, after being detained for six months without charge.

Australian Embassy officials have visited Cheng a number of times since her detention in accordance with their bilateral consular agreement with China, with Australian officials having previously expressed concerns about the “lack of transparency” surrounding her case.

Payne’s ministry has consistently raised the Australian government’s “serious concerns” with the Chinese regime about Cheng’s detention regularly at senior levels, including about her welfare and her detention conditions.

Cheng was a news anchor for CGTN, the international arm of the Chinese regime’s state broadcaster, CCTV, before being detained in Beijing in August 2020 amid testy relations between Canberra and Beijing.
The Australian government was first formally notified of Cheng’s detention on Aug. 14, 2020.

She was the second Chinese Australian to be detained by Chinese authorities since 2019, as bilateral tensions escalated over issues such as trade, Beijing’s tightening control on Hong Kong, and the Chinese regime’s handling of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak from Wuhan, China.

After graduating from the University of Queensland, Cheng returned to China to become a business analyst for a Sino–Australian joint venture in 2001, then started her journalism career at China’s state broadcaster CCTV a year later, according to her CGTN profile page. The profile has since been removed from the website, along with videos featuring Cheng’s previous reports.

After working as a CNBC China correspondent for nine years, she started working at CGTN’s office in Beijing in 2012.

Since July 2020, Australia has warned its citizens that they run the risk of “arbitrary detention” if they travel to mainland China, noting that Chinese authorities have detained foreigners for “endangering national security.”

Cheng will be tried in the Beijing No.2 People’s Intermediate Court at 9 a.m. on March 31, two sources told Reuters earlier this week.