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Before Ms. Cheng’s detention, the Australian government was at loggerheads with Beijing over another detained Australian of Chinese heritage, Yang Hengjun, a writer and businessman also known as Yang Jun. He has been held in China since early 2019 and was indicted earlier this year on espionage accusations.
In June, Chinese authorities indicted two Canadians — Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman — on spying charges. Their cases have ignited accusations that Beijing is using them as pawns to pressure Canada to refuse the extradition of a Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, to the United States, where she faces fraud charges.
More broadly, relations between Australia and China have cooled after a series of quarrels that reflect deepening distrust of Beijing’s intentions.
Australia’s right-of-center government pushed through legislation in 2018 against foreign political interference that was widely seen as focused on Chinese Communist Party-sponsored activities. In 2018, Australia blocked potential participation by Huawei in building the country’s 5G wireless network. This year, Australia led calls for an international inquiry into origins in China of the coronavirus pandemic, angering Beijing.
Chinese official media, especially Global Times, a loudly nationalist tabloid, have regularly scorned Australia, describing it as a servile follower of the Trump administration. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce has imposed additional tariffs on Australian barley and has launched inquiries into Australian wines that could also result in tariffs.
Ms. Cheng, however, appeared eager to promote better business relations. On her Twitter account, she described herself as “passionate orator of the China story,” and has worked for CGTN for about eight years.
She grew up in Australia, the daughter of Chinese migrants, and after working in business in Australia and China, Ms. Cheng became a journalist, she said in an interview last year for the Australia China Business Council.