BIG TROUBLE WITH BIG CHINA
Early last week, the ABC’s Bill Birtles was talking wine, and the Australian Financial Review‘s Michael Smith admired some pandas. But things went rapidly downhill from there… They arrived in Sydney yesterday after they left China with the federal government’s assistance. They were the only journalists working for Australian media organisations left in mainland China, and reports say that Chinese police were within hours of arresting them.
The deteriorating relationship between Australia and China – most recently featuring Australian journalist Cheng Lei’s detention – saw the men preparing to leave China last week. But at 12.30am last Thursday, Birtles (in Beijing) and Smith (in Shanghai) were simultaneously visited by state security officers and told they were ‘persons of interest’ in the Cheng case – and they weren’t allowed to leave the country. Both contacted our diplomatic missions and spent five days under our government’s protection, which then negotiated for the ban on their departure to be lifted in exchange for hour-long interviews. Both men said they were grateful to be home when they arrived yesterday.
WHAT’S THAT ABOUT?
It’s an unusual one. China watchers said it typically deports foreign correspondents it disapproves of – and it’s done a fair bit of that of late with a record 17 foreign journalists expelled in the first half of 2020. And so thoughts turn to the ongoing tensions between our nations with Birtles saying that it “felt like a diplomatic tussle in a broader Australian-China relationship, more than anything specific related to [Cheng’s] case.” And their return came on a day when broad charges were outlined against Cheng – she’s “suspected of carrying out criminal activities endangering China’s national security,” China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed last night. The chapter has alarmed China experts who said that it points to a deep breakdown in trust. And that could have serious consequences – for Australians in China, our exporters, and our regional security. In July, the Department of Foreign Affairs updated its travel advice to China warning that authorities could arbitrarily detain Australian citizens. Some thought it an overreaction – but maybe not now…
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SOME AUSTRALIANS TAKEN FROM SYRIAN CAMP
The families of several Australian women and children living in Syria’s al-Hawl refugee camp are concerned about their safety after reports that some were forcibly removed last weekend. The camp is for the families of Islamic State fighters after they were defeated in the north of the country last year. About 70,000 people are living there in difficult conditions, including around 20 Australian women and 47 children. There are no confirmed numbers, but reports say 4 Australian women and 10 children were handcuffed and taken away – where to and by whom are unanswered questions. Advocates have been calling for the group’s repatriation, but the federal government has said that it’s concerned the women could retain radicalised views and going in to get them would risk our officials’ lives.
JAIL FOR KHASHOGGI MURDERERS
Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi embassy in Turkey’s Istanbul in October 2018 by state agents. And now eight people have been jailed for his killing. Five of them were given 20-year sentences after Khashoggi’s family forgave his killers and pardoned them from death sentences. They welcomed the outcome, calling the sentences “fair and deterrent”. But Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz was not at all happy saying the case is closed without the world finding out what really happened. “Who planned it? Who ordered it? Where is his body?” she asked. Khashoggi was a critic of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed, and the US is said to have intelligence that he ordered the killing – an accusation he denies.
MOVIE ENMESHED IN POLITICAL MIRE
It was billed as one of the biggest movie releases of the year, and Disney’s Mulan is creating a lot of buzz – but not for the right reasons… Already the target of boycott calls after its star Liu Yifei made comments in support of authorities in Hong Kong, Disney has now been accused of “profiteering in the shadow of concentration camps”. Eagle-eyed watchers of the credits at the end of the movie noticed a thank you to a government security agency in China’s Xinjiang province. That’s where about one million people – mostly Muslim Uighurs – are being detained and ‘re-educated’. And the security mob acknowledged are said to be running the camps. Governments around the world – including Australia – have raised their concerns for the Uighurs with China. Disney hasn’t commented on the latest development.
BARTY WON’T DEFEND FRENCH OPEN CROWN
The Grand Slam at Roland Garros kicks off on 27 September – but it will be minus our world-beater Ash Barty. Her ripper 2019 was made by her French Open victory, and yesterday she said that it was “the most special tournament of my career so this is not a decision I have made lightly.” But she says the COVID risks and lack of prep with her coach Craig Tyzzer, who is Melbourne-based, is behind the call. The good news is she’s getting geared up for a summer of tennis here in Oz. Bring it…
A BIT OF AWW
That’s a lot of challenging news, so how about something wholesome? Behold the Nigerian maths teacher who’s torturing… sorry… helping hundreds of students heading to exams while in lockdown. Because how can you count the days until 2020 is over without knowing your numbers? Or there’s the 80yo hiker who went missing for 3 days who’s walked into the press conference arranged by his family to appeal for his safe return. All’s well that ends well…
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12.30pm (AEST) – Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra, Australian Council of Social Services CEO Cassandra Goldie, and Deloitte Access Economics’ Chris Richardson address the National Press Club – Canberra
ABS Data Release – Lending Indicators, July
North Korea’s National Day
Birthdays for Hugh Grant (1960), Adam Sandler (1966), Michael Bublé (1975) and Michelle Williams (1980)
• 9-month-old Mary Stuart being crowned Queen of Scots (1543)
• Congress officially renaming the United Colonies to the United States of America (1776)
• the birthdays of explorer William Bligh (1754 ), author Leo Tolstoy (1828), KFC founder Colonel Sanders (1890) and musician Otis Redding (1941)
• Tibet becoming an autonomous region of China (1965)
• Queen Elizabeth II becoming our longest-reigning monarch at 63 years and 7 months, beating the previous record set by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria (2015)
• the death of Mao Zedong (1976)
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