As relations continue to worsen two Australian journalists fled China on Monday night after seeking refuge in Australia diplomatic missions across the country
Bill Birtles, who works for public broadcaster ABC, and Michael Smith of the Australian Financial Review said they feared arrest by the Chinese authorities.
Diplomats eventually brokered a deal that said they could leave the country in exchange for agreeing to be interviewed by police.
“The deal basically was police will interview me and then the Chinese government will lift its exit ban. But having gone through that interview, I’m not really convinced that police thought that I or the other journalists would have any particularly useful information,” Birtles said
“It seems to me this is much more related to the broader problems in the China-Australia relationship and that perhaps we were just pawns in a much bigger situation that’s beyond our control.”
Birtles also said that he believed the whole incident was part of a broader crackdown by Beijing against Australian media in China, because police “weren’t particularly rigorous in trying to extract answers around [the Cheng Lei] case.”
“If anything, this looked like a concerted effort to target the Australian media in Beijing. And I’d say that is related more to the Australia-China relationship,” Birtles added.