News World China accuses Australia of interfering in legal case by sheltering two journalists
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China accuses Australia of interfering in legal case by sheltering two journalists

AFR correspondent Michael Smith and ABC correspondent Bill Birtles. Photo: Bill Birtles
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The Chinese government has accused Australian officials of legal interference for sheltering two high-profile journalists at diplomatic premises before they were rushed out of China over fears for their safety.

ABC journalist Bill Birtles spent four days hiding in Australia’s embassy while AFR journalist Mike Smith took refuge in Australia’s Shanghai consulate as diplomats negotiated with Chinese officials for their safe exit out of China.

Allowing the correspondents to stay at diplomatic compounds while local police demanded interviews with them constituted “an interference in China’s internal affairs and judicial sovereignty”, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.

He accused Australians officials of interfering in “a Chinese legal case”.

Mr Lijian was referring to Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist for Chinese state media who has been detained since last month.

Mr Lijian said allowing the two men to “hide in the embassy” had “completely” exceeded “the scope of consular protection”.

He was quoted by the ABC as saying: “This practice is inconsistent with the status and identity of the Australian embassy in China.”

Cheng Lei has been in detention since August. Photo: CGTN

His comments came after the US revoked more than 1000 visas of Chinese nationals as part of a push to block entry of students and researchers it believes have military links.

President Donald Trump in May restricted the entry of certain students and researchers to the US, saying they were being used in Beijing’s campaign to acquire sensitive technologies and intellectual property.

The State Department began implementing the rules effective June 1.

“As of September 8, 2020, the Department has revoked more than 1000 visas of PRC nationals who were found to be subject to Presidential Proclamation 10043 and therefore ineligible for a visa,” a department spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

The department has broad authority to revoke visas, she said, and exercises that authority when information comes to light indicating a visa holder may be inadmissible or otherwise ineligible for a visa.

She did not share specific details of whose visas had been revoked.

Dozens of Chinese students enrolled in US universities said they received notices from the US Embassy in Beijing or US consulates in China informing them their visas had been cancelled.

-with AAP