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Chinese attempt to block journalist ham-fisted: PM

Source: X/Matthew Knott

Attempts by Chinese officials to block the view of journalist Cheng Lei during Premier Li Qiang’s Canberra visit were ham-fisted and clumsy, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says.

As Albanese prepared for further talks with Beijing’s second-highest official in Perth on Tuesday, Chinese officials have come under fire for behaviour around Lei, who was detained in China for three years.

During Monday’s signing ceremony between Albanese and Li at Parliament House, Chinese officials moved in front of Lei to obstruct her view and attempt to stop her being filmed.

Albanese said the incident underscored the differences that remained between the two countries.

“We have different values and different political systems, and we saw some of that … with the attempt that was pretty ham-fisted to block Cheng Lei … there was a clumsy attempt,” he told Perth’s Nova 93.7.

“The Australian officials did the right thing and intervened, but that showed that they’re different systems that are there.”

Albanese said concerns had been expressed to the Chinese embassy about Monday’s incident.

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

Both leaders will hold further talks in Perth on Tuesday, with strengthening business links and critical minerals on the agenda.

In Perth, Li will visit a lithium plant before attending an Australia-China CEO roundtable event.

The roundtable will involve representatives from major Australian companies including Wesfarmers, Rio Tinto, ANZ and Fortescue discussing economic opportunity and free-trade agreements between the two countries.

The visit by Li to Australia, the first by a Chinese premier in seven years, has restored hope of China lifting all remaining trade sanctions that had been imposed since 2020.

While sanctions had been lifted on items such as beef and wine, trade restrictions remain on Australian rock lobsters.

Albanese said he hoped the lobster ban could be lifted, adding ties with China had improved.

“We have differences, and we raise them very directly, but we raise them in a respectful way and in a constructive way,” Albanese told ABC Radio.

“There’s much, of course, that we agree on, and there’s much complementarity in our economies.”

Elsewhere, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton urged Albanese to “grow a backbone” over the Lei incident.

“The job of the Prime Minister is to make tough decisions and to call out bad behaviour and to make sure that you do the right thing by Australians – and that’s what our Prime Minister should do,” he said.

“The issue of Cheng Lei [was] a very regrettable incident and I’m very pleased to hear that the government’s raised that with the Chinese embassy because it’s completely unacceptable in our free society for that sort of conduct to take place.”

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said he welcomed the developments. However, he expressed concern with Chinese officials.

“The Chinese should have had absolutely nothing to fear from her presence as a professional, respectful journalist,” he told Sky News.

“[The officials] should think long and hard about the fact that this type of distraction caused by inappropriate conduct on their behalf is counterproductive.”

Lei, who works for Sky News Australia, has described Monday’s incident as “a bad look” for the Chinese officials.

Li will also visit Fortescue’s research and development facility in Perth during the final day of his Australian trip.

Former Fortescue chief executive, Andrew Forrest said closer ties with China would greatly benefit Australian industries, particularly green hydrogen.

“If we end up doing this, then it will be equipment sourced in Australia and China, everything made in Australia, and all the product distributed and supplied to the world,” he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

“Our customers need the world to go green. Our customers need China to go green. Australia, if we position ourselves correctly, can help them on that path, that means we win economically, but the world wins environmentally.”

Ahead of the CEO roundtable, Business Council of Australia chief executive Bran Black said it was critical that both countries worked more closely.

“China is our largest two-way trading partner with total trade last year standing at $320 billion, and that figure is only set to grow as demand increases for investments linked to the energy transition,” he said.

“One in four jobs in Australia is linked to the export market, so roundtables like these help support those jobs and growing critical sectors.”

-with AAP

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