Australia evacuates two journalists from China amid rising tensions

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Xinhua, a Chinese state news agency, reported that the journalists had been told to remain "silent" about the events whilst the Australian foreign office has declined to comment on the allegations.

Chen said he had been friends with Zhang since 2016 and they met up when he was in Sydney or Zhang was in Shanghai.

Sept 2 - After being advised by the Australian government to leave China, Australian Financial Review journalist Michael Smith in Shanghai and ABC journalist Bill Birtles in Beijing prepare for departures the next day.

Both men were quizzed about fellow Australian Cheng Lei, who has been detained in China since last month.

ASIO, Australia's main intelligence agency, refused to confirm or deny the raids, while the Australian Federal Police said it had "no comment to make" on the matter.

"Counterespionage agency Asio questioned at least one Chinese journalist in Australia in connection to an investigation involving a staffer of suspended NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane", reported The Sydney Morning Herald.

He said they were questioned by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, and that their laptops and cell phones were seized.

Relations between China and Australia were already strained by Australia outlawing covert interference in politics and banning communications giant Huawei from supplying critical infrastructure.

"Like journalists from other countries, they have an attachment for Australia, make friends with Australian people, and work hard to improve their understanding of the country and its people", it claimed the source told them. Being too vocal either way carries costs: Railing about human rights in China will jeopardize the market, but also pushing Australian political leaders too hard might lead to a backlash in the current environment.

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Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Australian officials cited a possible violation of the country's foreign interference laws for their raids in June, but had not provided a "reasonable explanation" for the searches.

Press card renewals for CNN and other USA media journalists were "being processed", Zhao said on Twitter, adding that "their reporting and life in China will not be affected in any way".

Author and former China correspondent Richard McGregor said the incident "marks a new low". Above all in response to China Security Officials imposing a new national-security law.

The episode began nearly a week ago, when police carried out synchronised midnight raids on Birtles's home in Beijing and Smith's in Shanghai - where he was correspondent for the Australian Financial Review.

After initially refusing to talk to police, he was interviewed by Chinese officials on Sunday, accompanied by Graham Fletcher, China's ambassador to Australia.

"I absolutely refuse to accept this assessment, and believe a gross mistake has been made regarding my relationship with Australia", he said.

The pair retreated to the Australian embassy where a tense diplomatic stand off unfolded over several days before they were eventually allowed to leave.

Experts fear that many foreigners have recently been arrested by Chinese authorities Examples of "hostage diplomacy".

They have worsened since the Australian government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of and worldwide responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

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