China officials blocking journalist ham fisted: PM

Australian officials have expressed concerns to the Chinese embassy following “ham-fisted” efforts to block the view of journalist Cheng Li during during the visit of Premier Li Qiang.

Jun 18, 2024, updated Jun 18, 2024
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

As Prime Minister Anthony Albanese prepared for further talks with China’s second-highest official in Perth on Tuesday, Chinese officials came under fire for behaviour around Ms Lei, who had been a former prisoner in China.

During a signing ceremony at Parliament House on Monday between Albanese and Li, Chinese officials moved in front of Lei to obstruct her view and attempt to stop her being filmed by cameras.

Albanese said officials from Australia had raised the issue about the incident with the Chinese embassy.

He said the incident had underscored the differences that remained between the two countries.

We have different values and different political systems, and we saw some of that … with the attempt that was pretty ham fisted to block Cheng Lei … there was a clumsy attempt,” he told Perth’s Nova 93.7 radio station.

“The Australian officials did the right thing and intervened, but that showed that they’re different systems that are there.”

Albanese said Australia had made it clear to the Chinese embassy there should not be impediments to journalists doing their jobs.

The prime minister and the premier will hold further talks in Perth on the final day of Li’s four-day visit, with strengthening business links and critical minerals on the agenda.

Li started the day with a meeting with West Australian Premier Roger Cook before visiting a lithium plant and attending an Australia-China CEO roundtable event.

The roundtable will involve representatives from major Australian companies including Wesfarmers, Rio Tinto, ANZ and Fortescue discussing economic opportunity and free-trade agreements between the two countries.

The visit by Li to Australia, the first by a Chinese premier in seven years, has restored hope of China lifting all remaining trade sanctions that had been imposed since 2020.

While sanctions had been lifted on items such as beef and wine, trade restrictions remain on Australian rock lobsters.

“We want the impediments to lobster and seafood lifted. We’ve been successful in lifting the impediments that were there on goods including coal and timber, meat products,” Albanese told ABC Radio.

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“The relationship is important for Australian jobs, for the Australian economy, for revenue here. But it’s also, of course, in China’s interest to receive our magnificent products that are so good.”

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said he welcomed the developments following Li’s visit.

However, he expressed concern with Chinese officials following the incident with Lei in Canberra.

“The Chinese should have had absolutely nothing to fear from her presence as a professional, respectful journalist,” he told Sky News.

“(The officials) should think long and hard about the fact that this type of distraction caused by inappropriate conduct on their behalf is counterproductive.”

Li will also visit Fortescue’s research and development facility in Perth during the final day of his Australian trip.

Former Fortescue chief executive, Andrew Forrest said closer ties with China would greatly benefit Australian industries, particularly green hydrogen.

“If we end up doing this, then it will be equipment sourced in Australia and China, everything made in Australia, and all the product distributed and supplied to the world,” he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

“Our customers need the world to go green. Our customers need China to go green. Australia, if we position ourselves correctly, can help them on that path, that means we win economically, but the world wins environmentally.”

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