Politicians, business people and friends of Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who will reach 1,000 days of detention in Beijing on Wednesday, called for a faster resolution of her case as diplomatic ties between the trade partners stabilise.
Cheng, 48, has yet to receive a verdict after facing trial more than a year ago in a closed court in the Chinese capital, accused of providing state secrets to another country.
Her arrest by state security in September 2020 came as China widened blocks on Australian exports amid a diplomatic dispute, but the barriers are falling now, with a visit by Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell planned.
“Going this long without being there for her kids is the hardest thing,” her partner, Nick Coyle, told Reuters in an interview, referring to Cheng’s children, aged 11 and 14, who are being cared for by their grandmother in Australia.
“She has missed her daughter going into high school, these are formative years,” added Coyle, who was chairman of the China-Australia Business Council for nine years until he left Beijing in 2022.
The “uncertainty over when this might be resolved” was also difficult, added Coyle, who described Cheng as “this vivacious, glamorous, pocket-rocket Aussie TV anchor” before her arrest, and receives monthly letters.
“Fairness would see a solution and I hope it is resolved this year and she can join her children in Melbourne,” said Warwick Smith, an official of the Business Council of Australia, who will travel to China this month. China has previously said Australia should respect China’s judicial sovereignty, adding that her legal rights were being upheld.
Australia wanted to “engage constructively” with China, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in a television interview with News UK host Piers Morgan in London a week ago.
But he added that he would also “say very directly to President Xi, that Australians such as Cheng Lei, need to be given proper justice, and that they’re not receiving that at the moment”.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Cheng had shown “great resilience and courage”, and the Australian government was concerned by the delay.
Born in China, Cheng moved with her scientist parents to Australia as a 10-year-old.
Later she returned to China to build a television career, first with CNBC, starting in 2003, and in 2012 she joined CGTN, becoming a prominent business anchor.
“No light has been shed on the allegations” against Cheng after three years, said former trade minister Simon Birmingham, whom she interviewed on his visits to China.
“Compassion, as well as justice, should see her allowed to return home to give a mum’s love to her children,” he said in a statement.