The Chinese government has accused Australia of “blatant irrational behaviour”, harassment and violation of the rights of its journalists by searching and seizing items from the homes of four Chinese state media reporters.
The revelation of the Australian raids in late June is the latest barb in a deteriorating relationship between the two major trading partners, coming just a day after two Australian journalists flew home from China with the help of consular officials.
The flight of the two Australian journalists, from Beijing and Shanghai, after they were questioned by China’s state security ministry gained international attention.
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.
“The Australian government’s behaviour … blatantly violates the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese journalists there and caused severe harm to the physical and mental health of the journalists and their families,” Mr Zhao said in a daily briefing.
“We ask Australia to immediately stop such blatant irrational behaviours, stop harassing and oppressing Chinese personnel in Australia under whatever pretext.”
Mr Zhao said officials seized laptops, cellphones, and a child’s toy tablet from the homes of reporters from outlets including state news agency Xinhua and the China News Service.
A spokesman for Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter declined to comment on “operational matters” when asked about an earlier report on the Australian raids by Xinhua, but added that authorities “take issues of foreign interference very seriously.”
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) also declined to comment on the Xinhua report, in line with usual practice.
Xinhua reported the Chinese journalists were told to “be silent” about the incident, without detailing how many were questioned or citing sources for its report.
The Chinese embassy in Canberra said it had provided consular support to journalists, in response to a question about the raids.
Australia has a tense diplomatic relationship with China, which worsened this year after Beijing vowed trade reprisals and said it was angered by Australia’s call for an international inquiry into the source of the coronavirus pandemic.
The two Australian journalists who arrived home from China on Tuesday had been questioned in the case of Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist for Chinese state television who was detained in China three weeks ago.
Chinese officials confirmed on Tuesday she was being held on suspicion of illegal activities that endanger China’s security.