Australian citizen and TV host detained

Foreign Affairs

Born in China and educated in Australia, Cheng Lei became a host on China’s state-run TV network. Now she is a prisoner of that state.

cheng lei cgtn anchor
A photo of detained Australian TV host Cheng Lei from her CCTV page. The page has been deleted, but it is still available on Google’s cache.

A Chinese-born Australian citizen who worked as a host for state TV in Beijing has been detained.

Chéng Lěi 成蕾 has been the host of a business show on CGTN — the international arm of central state broadcaster CCTV — since 2012. She moved back to China in 2001, according to her bio — now deleted — on CGTN’s website (still available here, with slightly different information from Cheng’s LinkedIn page).  

  • The Australian government was notified of Cheng’s detention on August 14, according to a statement released by Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne. Consular officials had an initial “visit with Ms Cheng at a detention facility via video link” on August 27.  
  • CGTN has scrubbed all mentions of Cheng from its websites and social media accounts.
  • Cheng is the second prominent Chinese-born Australian citizen to be detained, initially without charges. Writer Yáng Héngjūn 杨恒均 was formally arrested on espionage charges in August 2019 after being detained in January that year in Guangzhou.

Her family says it is in “close consultation” with the Australian government, according to ABC Australia.  

  • Her family also said, “In China, due process will be observed and we look forward to a satisfactory and timely conclusion to the matter.” China’s track record on such detentions without charges does not support their optimism.  

Why was she detained?

None of the media reports offer a clue as to why Cheng is in trouble with the government whose TV station she represented for so many years.

But it’s worth noting that when other countries annoy the Chinese government, it sometimes takes it out on citizens of that other country: See, for example, the cases of the Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. And China and Australia’s relationship has been deteriorating over the last few years. This has accelerated in 2020. Here are a few SupChina headlines from the last four months:

Meanwhile, just today, we have these news stories: