In what is fast becoming a tit for tat diplomacy between Australia and China, state media in China says Australian agents raided the homes of Chinese journalists in June, in the latest flare of tensions between the nations. The reports come a day after the last two journalists working in China for Australian media flew home after a tense diplomatic stand-off. On Wednesday, two state mouthpieces said the Chinese reporters had been asked not to report the June incident. Australian police and intelligence agencies said they would not comment. The “raids” took place on an unspecified number of Chinese journalists’ homes by Australian intelligence officers on 26 June, reported China’s state news agency Xinhua. The reporters were told to “be silent” about the incident, Xinhua said, without citing sources.
Another state media outlet, The Global Times, said the Chinese journalists were questioned and their computers and smartphones seized, citing an unnamed source “close to the matter”. It also cited anonymous experts as saying: “The incident exposed Australia’s hypocrisy in upholding so-called “freedom of the press”.
According to Xinhua the raids took place on the same day the home and office of Australian politician Shaoquett Moselmane were raided. In a statement on Wednesday, the Australian Security Intelligence Agency (Asio) said: “As is long-standing practice, Asio does not comment on intelligence matters.”Mr Moselmane, a state lawmaker in New South Wales (NSW), has previously said he is not a suspect in an Australian investigation into allegations that Chinese agents infiltrated his office.
Australian media said on Wednesday that Chinese journalists were part of a WeChat group linked to a part-time staffer of Mr Moselmane.”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.Xinhua claimed Mr Moselmane had been targeted for his praise of China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Relations between Australia and China have been strained in recent years and plummeted sharply after Canberra backed an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. The raid allegations come a day after Bill Birtles from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Mike Smith from the Australian Financial Review – the last correspondents to be based in China for Australian media – landed in Sydney on Tuesday after a five-day diplomatic standoff. The pair were eventually allowed to leave China after being interviewed by police over the case of another Australian journalist being held in the country.