Australian journalist Cheng Lei has warned Australians interested in travelling to China to be aware of the risks around national security, but she also did not rule out going back to the nation where she was incarcerated for three years.
Cheng, who was a presenter at the Chinese state-owned English language broadcaster CGTN, was taken into custody in August 2020, before being released and returned to Australia earlier this year.
Cheng was charged with illegally supplying state secrets to foreign organisations after being surveilled for four months. She has previously told ABC’s 7.30 her incarceration involved “a sophisticated form of torture”.
Cheng warned Australians to be vigilant of China’s expanding national security laws if they chose to visit.
“Would people believe me if I said they should [visit]?” Cheng quipped before getting serious and giving her advice to Australians.
“China is a very big country, but the China of now, I think, is different to, say, the China I went to in 2000, and then the subsequent decade,” she said.
“I think you have to figure out what to be mindful of.
“It’s just such a blanket term and I don’t want naive people going there. If you are going there, [be] fully educated about the risks.”
Asked by Q+A host Patricia Karvelas if she would ever return to China, Cheng, who said she was banned from applying for a visa for 10 years, left the door open, even as she fired off a line that might raise the ire of Chinese officials.
“Never say never, but right now I’m not allowed … and if people want to improve their Mandarin, they could go to Taiwan,” she said.
‘Kowtow, get sweeties’
Tensions in the Asia-Pacific region are still high in regard to Chinese ambitions throughout Asia and specifically in the South China Sea.
However, trade and diplomatic tensions with Australia are considered to be thawing since Prime Minister Anthony Albanese became the first Australian leader to visit China since Malcolm Turnbull in 2016.
Still, the geopolitical climate is testy, with Australia — a staunch ally of the United States, which is a nation at odds with China — walking a diplomatic tightrope.
Cheng said the key to managing that relationship was statecraft but also understanding China and the pressures placed upon President Xi Jinping, who US President Joe Biden, not for the first time, called a “dictator” just weeks ago.
“I’m for nuanced statecraft because having been brought up in China … and also reading a lot of Chinese history while in incarceration, you get a feeling of where China is coming from,” Cheng said.
“It’s super tetchy because it has to govern 1.4 billion people.
“It feels it’s under attack both from within and without.
“It wants to go and go back and reclaim that top dog spot that it lost probably after the Tang dynasty over 1,000 years ago. And to do that, it needs to feel powerful, and that’s where the defence side comes in.
“It [also] needs to feel benevolent, so if you play nice, if you kowtow, you’ll get sweeties.”
Asked if she thought the prime minister should have been more direct with Mr Xi over the recent sonar incident involving the Australian military, Cheng said because of China’s desire to save face, the discussion had to be “delicate”.
‘We failed to listen to voters’ on Voice
While Australia’s relationship with China came under the microscope, so did the Voice referendum, with Kalarie man and outgoing Victorian commissioner for LGBTIQA+ Communities, Todd Fernando, giving a powerful account of how he felt after the No vote.
He said it left him feeling numb, and he laid a large portion of the blame for the referendum’s failure on those in the Yes camp who did not acknowledge that Australian voters wanted more information on the issue.
“Onto the campaign … there was a moment where Australian voters started asking for details and we had the audacity to be like, ‘racist!'” Mr Fernando said.
“The irony here is that we lost an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament because we failed to listen to the voter, and that’s got to sit on not just Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, those who voted ‘Yes’ or those who voted ‘No’, but all of us.
“We missed a genuine opportunity to walk together and that’s very sad.”
On that sadness, Mr Fernando gave a personal account of what he went through and the raw emotions on October 14 and the day after, when he said he failed to venture outside his house.
“I was wearing an ‘always was, always will be’ Aboriginal jumper, I think we’ve all seen them. I looked in the mirror and I took it off,” he said of referendum day.
“I didn’t want to be identified in the line.
“It was the first time in Australia where I voted and I was like, ‘I just want to disappear. I don’t want anybody to know who or what I am.’
“I got home feeling a bit down from that experience, and then a friend texted me later that evening saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ I didn’t have the TV on, I didn’t have the radio on, and that was how I found out.
“I felt numbness for the very first time in my life.
“I walked around in my apartment shell-shocked for about three or four hours.
“I couldn’t form a word, I couldn’t form a sentence.
“I couldn’t understand what had just happened. And over the next four days, I remained in that apartment. I didn’t want to leave the door. Like, I didn’t want to go outside.”
He said many of his Indigenous friends had similar experiences and felt “utterly rejected”.
However Cheng, who was back for the referendum, said despite the result she saw a different and more accepting Australia.
“When I came back, I discovered that I felt it (Australia) was more inclusive,” she said.
“So, to me, I just think we stop whingeing and start fixing.”
Source : ABC