CANBERRA: Amid deteriorating ties between Canberra and Beijing, Australian national Cheng Lei, who was detained last year by Chinese authorities, has been formally arrested on suspicion of espionage.
"The Australian Government has been advised that Australian citizen Ms Cheng Lei was formally arrested in China on 5 February, after 6 months of detention. Chinese authorities have advised that Ms Cheng was arrested on suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas," the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement.
Cheng has been detained since 13 August 2020. She reportedly worked as a news anchor at the English-language broadcaster -- China Global Television Network (CGTN) from 2012.
The statement by the Foreign Affairs Department said the Australian Government has raised its serious concerns about Cheng's detention regularly at senior levels, including about her welfare.
Australian Embassy officials have visited Cheng six times since her detention, most recently on 27 January 2021, in accordance with our bilateral consular agreement with China. "We expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms," the statement said.
Recently, two prominent Australian outlets withdrew their correspondents from China after they were questioned by Chinese authorities, Sputnik reported.
Since the beginning of the pandemic bilateral ties between China and Australia have been going downhill over an array of issues over the past year, prompting Beijing to stop the import of various Australian goods, including coal. Expatriates of either country have also been increasingly caught in the crosshairs of law enforcement as tensions between the two rise.