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World News

Chinese journalist targeted in Australian raid calls investigation 'baseless'

BEIJING (Reuters) - An Australia-based Chinese journalist whose home was raided as part of an Australian foreign interference investigation in June said the action was unfounded and “baseless”, in an account released by Chinese media.

China announced that Australian intelligence and police had raided four of its journalists as part of a broader investigation into an alleged plot to influence an Australian state politician.

The Chinese journalist, Yang Jingzhong, who was the Sydney bureau chief for the state news agency Xinhua, said Australian authorities raided his home at 6:30 a.m. on June 26 and conducted a seven-hour search, confiscating a number of electronic devices and documents.

“I was shocked, but I quickly calmed down because I knew I had not violated any laws. However, my daughter had never experienced such a scene and was very frightened,” said Yang.

The raids were carried out on the same day as a raid on the office of Shaoquett Moselmane, the Australian politician allegedly targeted by foreign interference efforts.

Australian Federal Police and the Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) declined to comment.

This month, Australia named China in a court document as the foreign state under investigation by police in its first foreign interference investigation. Beijing dismissed the allegation as an anti-China smear.

Ties between Australia and its biggest trading partner have been plagued over recent years by Australian complaints of Chinese interference in its politics. China has denied the accusations.

Yang, in his account of the raid, referred to an earlier response from China’s foreign ministry, which said Australia had not given a reasonable explanation for the investigation.

Beijing earlier confirmed that all four journalists had returned to China.

‘FRIENDSHIP AND COOPERATION’

Yang’s account comes amid a broader debate in some Western countries over the overseas activities of Chinese state media, which put an emphasis on promoting China’s image abroad, and amid deepening diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Canberra.

In the past year, the United States has required U.S.-based staff of China’s top state media outlets, including Xinhua, CGTN and the People’s Daily, to register as “foreign agents”.

“I have always put the promotion of friendship and cooperation between China and Australia as the focus of my work,” said Yang, adding that most of his work involved reporting on cultural and economic exchanges between China and Australia.

News of the raids targeting Chinese journalists was released by Beijing shortly after two Australian journalists were evacuated from China, in a tense diplomatic standoff between Beijing and Australian embassy officials.

Chinese police questioned the Australian journalists before they left in relation to the case of Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist with Beijing’s state-run CGTN news channel detained in China in August.

The questioning of the Australian journalists has been widely interpreted as a tit-for-tat response to the raid on Chinese journalists in Canberra, though the China’s foreign ministry has denied they are linked.

Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Tony Munroe and Robert Birsel

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