/ 19 June 2024

Standing up leads to fallout

Image source: Flickr
Image source: Flickr

Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s tour of Oz wrapped up in Perth yesterday, but it’s the actions of his officials that are in focus as the fallout from the ‘blocking’ of Aussie journo Cheng Lei during a press conference in Canberra on Monday continued to pile on. PM Anthony Albanese initially said he “didn’t see” the incident but yesterday he changed tack, calling it “ham-fisted” and confirmed our officials complained to the Chinese Embassy. But Coalition Leader Peter Dutton says Albanese should have called it out sooner by raising it with Premier Li on Monday, while ​​former Home Affairs boss Mike Pezzullo labelled it a “desecration” at the heart of our democracy.

What’s this all about?

You’re all over this because we reckon you remember Cheng Lei. She was a presenter at a Chinese state-owned English language broadcaster when she was arrested in 2020 and spent 3 years in jail for allegedly sharing state secrets. She always denied the charges and after a lot of advocacy by our officials, she returned to Australia last October. On Monday, Lei was at an official event between Albanese and Li in her current role as a Sky News reporter – some say that was a bit cheeky, but others say she is well within her rights as an Aussie journo. What happened is that Chinese officials blocked the camera’s view of her to prevent footage showing Lei and Li in the same frame. Albanese called it “clumsy”, but critics say he should have reacted more strongly. For her part, Lei says the Chinese officials “shot themselves in the foot” by their actions because it’s dominated talk about the trip for a couple of days.

Did it impact the end of Li’s tour?

Nope – he and Albanese put on a united front in Perth yesterday at the Australia-China CEO roundtable alongside mining and renewable energy reps. That’s a notable event because our exports to China totalled $320 billion last year, with three-quarters – mostly iron ore – coming from Western Oz. Albanese said those partnerships and investments are crucial, “even as we take steps to secure our economic sovereignty” to enable job growth in our critical minerals sector – part of the government’s Future Made in Australia plan. Li also visited a lithium processing plant, highlighting China’s focus on the critical minerals it needs for industries like electric vehicle manufacturing. Later, Li declared the visit a success at a banquet featuring rock lobster – even though the crustacean trade sanctions haven’t been lifted. Experts reckon the lingering impact of those sanctions means the relationship is still fragile. Easy does it…

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