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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – China continued to host foreign journalists and did not discriminate against them, a Chinese envoy said on Wednesday, contradicting an Australian journalist’s opinion that they were “barely tolerated “.

Wang Xining, deputy head of the mission of the Chinese Embassy in Australia, and Michael Smith, one of the last journalists working for Australian media to flee China, took part in a panel discussion on China at the National Press Club of Australia.

Smith, an Australian Financial Review reporter who fled Shanghai in September after police demanded an interview and temporarily blocked his departure, said China once hosted foreign journalists to “spread the word about the miracle economic development of China ”.

“In China, there is no room for an opinion that does not correspond to that of the Chinese Communist Party,” Smith said. “It feels like these days we’re sort of barely tolerated.”

Wang said he was “sympathetic enough” to Smith and Bill Birtles, a reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. who fled Beijing at the same time as Smith and under similar circumstances.

“It was not … my embassy or … any of our Chinese authorities who advised them to leave,” Wang said.

“Michael and I have discussed this issue, we will continue to discuss and find a solution for this. But in general, I do not agree with Michael in saying that my government no longer welcomes foreign journalists because our policy is to welcome journalists from all over the world and also from Western countries, ”added Wang.

Many foreign journalists in China have received fixed-term visas of as little as three months, making travel within the country difficult. China has also blocked already limited access to the BBC, in part in retaliation for Britain’s revocation of the UK’s broadcasting license for the foreign branch of public news channel CCTV.

Smith said former BBC Beijing correspondent John Sudworth was the last high-profile reporter to leave China after reporting detention camps in northwest Xinjiang and allegations that minority groups would have been forced to work in textile factories.

The BBC reported last month that Sudworth and his family had moved to Taiwan following pressure and threats from Chinese authorities.

Wang said BBC reporters “failed to present a true picture” of Xinjiang.

“We never discriminate against any journalist, but we hope that foreign journalists in China will present the true image of China,” Wang said.

Smith and Birtles had taken refuge in Australian diplomatic complexes before being allowed to leave China under a deal negotiated between the two governments.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry later said that Australian security officers raided the Sydney home of four journalists working for Chinese state media in June and seized their electronic devices, citing possible breaches of the law. Australian anti-foreign interference law.

Journalists representing the Xinhua News Agency, China Central Radio, CCTV and the Chinese News Agency have since returned to China.

Smith said on Wednesday that the Sydney raids were “obviously the trigger for what happened to us”.

“Bill Birtles and I have kind of become pawns in this tit-for-tat political game played by Australia and China,” Smith said.

Prior to their departure, Chinese police questioned the two reporters about Australian citizen Cheng Lei, an economic news anchor for CGNT, the English-language state media channel in China, who had been arrested a month earlier.

Wang said that Cheng remained in detention legally.

“She was apprehended because she was suspected of violating China’s security law and all such cases will be dealt with according to Chinese legal procedure and documents,” Wang said.

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