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‘Made it clear’: PM lashes China’s journo block

CHINESE PREMIER CANBERRA
Prime Minister Albanese speaks at the lunch for Chinese Premier Li Qiang at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has broken his silence about the treatment of Australian journalist Cheng Lei during Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s visit to Australia this week.

Speaking with ABC Perth, the prime minister denounced the behaviour of some of the Chinese delegation, who appeared to try and block cameras from filming Ms Lei while Mr Albanese signed agreements with the premier in Canberra on Monday.

“There should be no impediments to Australian journalists going about their job and we’ve made that clear to the Chinese Embassy,” Mr Albanese said.

Mr Albanese had earlier said he was not aware of the incident.

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Beijing imprisoned Ms Lei, a mother of two, for three years, accusing her of supplying state secrets overseas.

Footage has emerged showing Sky News Australia host Cheng Lei being blocked from the view of cameras by a Chinese official during an important media event. Formerly detained journalist Cheng Lei has spoken out after her view of a document signing and press conference with Chinese Premier Li Qiang in Canberra was obstructed by Chinese officials on Monday. A Chinese embassy official stood in front of Lei, who was sitting in an area assigned for media representatives. Liberal MP Aaron Violi said the development regarding Cheng lei was "concerning".

She was tried in secret and the charges against her were never made public before her surprise release in October last year.

Speaking with Sky News after Monday’s kerfuffle, Ms Lei said the Chinese delegation had gone to “great lengths to block me”.

“I’m only guessing this is to prevent me from saying something or doing something that they think would be a bad look, but that in itself was a bad look,” she said.

The undiplomatic behaviour has sparked anger in Australia and the Premier’s visit has inflamed discussion about the state of Chinese-Australian relations.

CHINESE PREMIER CANBERRA
Cheng Lei was blocked by Chinese officials at a press conference on Monday. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth and Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie squared off either side of referee-slash-television host Karl Stefanovic on Tuesday morning.

Sparks flew over announcements and sideline events stemming from Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s visit to Australia this week.

n recent months, a Chinese fighter jet dropped flares in the flight path of an Australian navy helicopter and a Chinese warship emitted sonar pulses that injured Australian navy divers, both incidents were in international waters.

During Mr Li’s visit, the two countries promised to improve military-to-military communication, including a new “maritime affairs dialogue”.

Sky News host Cheng Lei discusses the “kerfuffle” involving her being blocked by Chinese officials at a press conference on Monday. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been questioned about the moment Cheng Lei was blocked from the view of cameras by Chinese officials at an important media event. “The worry is that my being there is a symbol of some sort,” Ms Lei said. “Maybe they didn’t want that for the domestic audience … but we don’t want this incident to overshadow the rest of the visit.”

Ms Rishworth backed the Sino-Australian communications commitments.

“The Prime Minister had a fruitful meeting … we’ll continue to look at ways we’ll co-operate. But of course, when it comes to protecting our defence force and standing up for our national interests, we will keep doing that,” Ms Rishworth said.

But Senator McKenzie took aim at the incident involving Ms Lei.

“I’m only guessing this is to prevent me from saying something or doing something that they think would be a bad look, but that in itself was a bad look,” Ms Lei said on Sky News, the outlet she works for.

THE PRIME MINISTER
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese meets with Cheng Lei in his office a few months after her release. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman
THE PRIME MINISTER
The pair were all smiles. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Senator McKenzie said the incident was “as brazen as it is bizarre”.

“It’s absolutely appalling,” she said on the Today show.

“And listening to Amanda (Rishworth) talk about our national interests, I tell you what is in our national interest, having a free press and having journalists of all stripes being able to front up in our people’s house, the Australian parliament, and ask our own politicians, and foreign politicians, whatever questions they like.”

CHINESE PREMIER CANBERRA
Police and protesters faced off Monday on the lawns of Parliament House ahead of Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s visit. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Asked about the incident, Mr Albanese said he had not been aware of the attempted blocking, adding only that “people be allowed to participate fully” in democratic processes.

Senator McKenzie said press conferences such as the Prime Minister and Chinese Premier’s were “managed within an inch of their lives”.

Defending the prime minister, Ms Rishworth said there needed to be a free and open press.

She said “we expect appropriate behaviour” when it came to freedom of press, and Ms Lei did ask Mr Albanese a question at the event.

“She asked the Prime Minister a question, good on her, and he answered it.”