Australian Journalist Cheng Lei became the latest in a growing list of foreign citizens arrested on dubious and murky grounds by the Chinese government and released as political bargaining chips. An earlier and more well known example were Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The two Canadians were imprisoned between 2018-2021 for espionage, but were released immediately after the US extradition request against Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was dropped. Beijing denied detaining the Canadians in retaliation for Ms. Meng’s arrest by Canada.
Ms. Cheng was released on October 11, 2023 after more than three years of detention in China. She was working as a business reporter for China’s state-run English language TV station CGTN when she was arrested on 13 August 2020 on the murky charges of “supplying state secrets overseas”. The incarceration of Ms. Cheng, an Australian citizen, had remained a sticking point in Australia’s relations with China. Experts and analysts were of the view that Ms. Meng was used as a pawn in the deteriorating ties between Beijing and Canberra post COVID-19. Not surprisingly the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said her release would facilitate his planned trip to China in November as both countries look to improve bilateral ties.