The partner of detained Australian journalist Cheng Lei says a decision to delay the verdict in her case “unnecessarily damages China’s standing”, potentially harming efforts to repair the diplomatic relationship.
Cheng was subjected to a closed trial in Beijing on 31 March 2022 over national security-related accusations, but has yet to be informed of a verdict.
The decision was due last week but has now been delayed for a further three months, the latest in a series of extensions. Her partner, Nick Coyle, said the delay was “deeply disappointing”.
“There has been no verdict or outcome since her trial 16 months ago, and it will be three years in very difficult custodial conditions … on 13 August,” Coyle said on Monday.
“Fair-minded people in Australia and all over the world simply do not accept this as reasonable.
“It quite unnecessarily damages China’s standing at a time many good people from both countries are seeking to repair relations and move the relationship forward.”
The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, has raised consular cases in all of her meetings with Chinese counterparts, including when she held talks with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, in Jakarta earlier this month.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Monday: “The Australian government shares the deep concerns of Ms Cheng’s family and friends about the ongoing delays in her case, and will continue to advocate for her at the highest levels.
“We continue to call for basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment, in accordance with international norms, and for her to be reunited with her family in Australia.”
The Chinese embassy told the Australian newspaper: “China’s judicial authorities have handled the case in accordance with the law and the lawful rights of Cheng are under full protection.”
In May the Chinese ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, told Guardian Australia national security-related matters took “more time” to reach verdicts, when asked about the cases of Cheng and fellow Australian detainee Yang Hengjun.
Xiao reiterated his own personal concerns for Cheng, the journalist who had not seen her children in “such a long time”.
“I will continue to try to do my utmost to facilitate more access, that she could have some kind of access granted to her partner and friends and families to let them know that she’s OK.”
The cases are one of numerous obstacles in the overall diplomatic relationship between Australia and China.
The China Daily, a state-run outlet, published an editorial on Sunday evening criticising the Australian government’s “disheartening” and “disappointing” decision to reject a proposed takeover of a lithium mine.
The Australian treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said on Monday that he acted in line with advice from the foreign investment review board (FIRB) in blocking the proposal for Austroid Australia to take a 100% stake in Alita Resources Ltd.
Chalmers told reporters in Canberra the government had “a non-discriminatory foreign investment process” but would not say more.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate that I provide further commentary on specific cases like that one,” he said.
The China Daily wrote that the takeover “was apparently nixed, because Austroid Australia has a Chinese national as a director, who is also a director of the Chinese company, Liatam Mining, which tried to buy Alita’s assets in 2020 but was unable to get FIRB approval”.
Source: The Guardian