Two Australian correspondents in China have been rushed home because their safety would be at stake, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reports Tuesday. The journalists were questioned by the Chinese Ministry of Security in an investigation into another Australian journalist who has been arrested in China.
The journalists, Bill Birtles and Michael Smith, work for ABC and the Australian Financial Review (AFR) in China respectively. They were both recently questioned individually by Chinese authorities and were not allowed to leave the country until they answered the questions.
Birtles and Smith had fled to Australia’s embassies in Beijing and Shanghai, while diplomats negotiated with local authorities. This led to the two being allowed to leave China on Monday and arrive in the Australian city of Sydney on Tuesday.
Both journalists are said to be suspects in an investigation into the television presenter Cheng Lei, an Australian citizen who works for the Chinese television channel China Global Television Network (CGTN). Cheng was arrested in China in early September for reasons that are still unclear.
Ties between Australia and China have been under tension for some time, since Australia called for an independent international investigation into the source of the coronavirus in China.