Beijing accuses Canberra of ‘barbaric’ treatment of Chinese citizens

Foreign Affairs

Tensions between China and Australia have escalated again after Beijing revealed that Chinese citizens were targeted in an investigation into influence operations.

parliament house canberra
Parliament House in Canberra, Australia.

Yesterday, news emerged of two Australian journalists who fled China after security agents sought to question them, and a diplomatic standoff. This came less than a month after Chéng Lěi 成蕾, an Australian citizen who worked for state broadcaster CGTN, was detained. Also yesterday, China’s foreign ministry said Cheng was accused of “criminal activity endangering China’s national security.”

Today, Beijing accused Australia of “barbaric and unreasonable” actions against Chinese citizens in Australia (see foreign ministry statements in English or Chinese).

  • Four Chinese employees of state media who lived in Australia had their homes searched and digital devices confiscated, including their children’s tablet computers, according to the foreign ministry.
  • Australia also revoked the visas of two Chinese scholars.

All six targeted Chinese citizens seem to have been caught up in Australia’s investigation into Chinese influence operations.

  • The investigation is looking at an “alleged plot by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to infiltrate New South Wales Parliament through the office of Labor backbencher Shaoquett Moselmane, using his former staffer John Zhang,” according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  • The journalists and the academics who have had their visas revoked have all returned to China.

What happens next?

China is likely to retaliate with more than fierce words from the foreign ministry and state media. It’s not a good time to be an Australian in China.