Churn leaves the Australian press without journalists working in China for the first time in nearly 50 years.
For example, ABC said that when the police visited his apartment, Birtles was hosting a farewell drink and he was banned from leaving the country and that he would receive a phone call the next day to question a “national security case”. The broadcaster did not say what question Birtles was asked.
The two journalists evacuated to Australian diplomatic missions in Beijing and Shanghai, and Canberra negotiated with Chinese officials to allow them to leave China. This deadlock lasted for five days before the travel ban was lifted and we could return to Sydney.
CNN Business has contacted the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the case, but has not yet received a response.
Australian Foreign Minister Maris Payne said in a statement that the government has provided consular support to two Australian journalists in China to help them return to Australia.
“It’s very disappointing to have to leave this situation,” Birtles told ABC on Tuesday.
He added that “returning to a country with a true rule of law gives a sense of relief.” “This was a whirlwind and not a particularly good experience.”
Smith told CNN Business at the Australian Quarantine that he felt that he and Buttles’ visit to the apartment was “very political.”
“A few days have been very nervous,” he said about the time spent at the Australian Consulate in Shanghai. He added that he and the Birtles could leave China on condition that they could interview Cheng Lei with China’s National Security Department.
Relations between Australia and China broke up in recent months after Canberra requested an investigation into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, countries have joined massive trade restrictions.
For the Australian media industry, the departure of Birtles and Smith is very important. ABC now reports that there are no longer any journalists employed by Australian media in mainland China. That hasn’t happened since 1972, when Canberra normalized relations with Beijing.
There are still some Australian journalists working in China, but all of them are employed by non-Australian media companies.
Another news outlet, The Australian, said Tuesday that Canberra advised on sending Chinese correspondent Will Glasgow back to the country. Glasgow is currently in Australia, but on Twitter it is due to fly to Guangzhou last Sunday.
Trevor Watson, who was an ABC correspondent in Beijing from 1988 to 1990, told CNN business that there were significant changes in the way the Chinese government sees Australian journalists.
When Watson worked in the United States, including when Watson covered the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, “There was a perception that ABC and Australian journalists act independently of the government.”
It has changed dramatically now, he said.
Regarding Birtles and Smith, he said, “They are very lucky to be out there.” “I have been to China regularly since 1979, so it will take a long time to come back.”
“It’s really sad,” Smith said, for CNN’s business to be forced to leave China.
“It is getting harder and harder to become a foreign correspondent in China,” he added. “It’s getting really hard for people to talk to you. They’re becoming more and more authoritarian. I think this is getting more dangerous and this really emphasizes it.”
He said that prior to this event, China had virtually ignored the potential dangers to Australians.
“If they ban journalists from exiting, you don’t know what they’re willing to do to eminent businessmen or other people in trouble,” he added.
And earlier this year, after the Trump administration limited the number of Chinese citizens who could work in the U.S. office of China’s state-run media, Beijing effectively expelled about a dozen journalists from the New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.
Since then, Washington has designated more and more US offices of China’s state-run news organization as “foreign missions,” requiring US authorities to submit financial and personnel documents. China hit back by making the same demands on several US stores in China.
“Only in the first half of 2020, China expelled a record 17 foreign journalists by canceling their media qualifications,” a Chinese foreign press conference said.
The group added that “at least a dozen foreign correspondents in China have received a short-term visa, which is punished in a short period of time for just one month, not the standard one-year visa.” “This happens in addition to increasing harassment and surveillance of foreign journalists, including physical assault and cyber attacks.”
-Angus Watson, Steven Jiang and Chandler Thornton contributed to this report.