Aussie journalists extracted from China


Two Australian journalists have been rushed out of China by their news organisations, over fears they were no longer safe.

The ABC has confirmed the "final two Australian correspondents working in China, including the ABC's Bill Birtles, have been rushed out of the country after local police demanded interviews with both journalists."

Chris Uhlmann, the political editor of Nine News, tweeted Mr Birtles and Michael Smith from the Australian Financial Review have this morning landed in Sydney.

The pair had been questioned separately by China's Ministry of State security.

The ABC reports Mr Birtles had spent four days sheltering in Australia's Embassy in Beijing, while Mr Smith took refuge in Australia's Shanghai consulate, as diplomats negotiated with Chinese officials to allow them to leave.

Mr Birtles has been the ABC's China correspondent, based in Beijing, since 2015 and has extensively covered the rise of Xi Jinping, the US-China trade war, the Hong Kong protests and rising tensions between Australia and China.

It comes after high-profile Australian journalist Cheng Lei was detained by Chinese authorities.

It is not known why Ms Cheng, who works for state broadcaster CHTN in Beijing, is being detained or what she is accused of.

Last Monday, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the Australian citizen, who has two children in Melbourne, had been detained "for weeks".

"Formal notification was received on 14 August 2020 from Chinese authorities of her detention," she said.

There has been rising tension between China and Australia in recent weeks, including allegations of wine dumping and tariffs placed on barley.

In July, the Australian Government changed its travel advice for China, warning Australian citizens faced "arbitrary detention" on the mainland.

According to the ABC, the evacuation means for the first time since the mid-1970s there are no accredited Australian media journalists in China.

More to come.