The departure leaves the Australian media without journalists working in China for the first time in 50 years.
For example, ABC added that Burtless had hosted farewell drinks when he was told by police that he had been barred from visiting his apartment and leaving the country and that he would be called in for questioning the next day on a national security case. The broadcaster did not say what was questioned about Birtles.
The two journalists sought refuge on Australian diplomatic missions in Beijing and Shanghai, respectively. Canberra was allowed to leave the country with Chinese officials. They were able to return to Sydney as the stand lasted five days before the travel ban was lifted.
CNN Business has approached the Chinese Foreign Ministry about the case but has not yet received a response.
Australian Foreign Minister Maris Payne said in a statement that the government had provided consular support to two Australian journalists in China to help them return to Australia.
Burtless told ABC on Tuesday that it was “very disappointing” to have to go through such circumstances.
“It’s comforting to be back in a country where there is a real rule of law,” he added. “It was a hurricane, not a particularly good experience.”
Speaking to CNN Business from the Australian embargo, Smith said visiting his and Bertlus’ apartments seemed too political.
He spoke about the time he spent inside the Australian Consulate in Shanghai. He added that he and Burtless were allowed to leave China on the condition that the Chinese Ministry of State Security allow them to interview Cheng Lee.
Ties between Australia and China have been severed in recent months after Canberra called for an investigation into the origin of the corona virus pandemic. Since then, countries have imposed trade restrictions.
The departure of Burtles and Smith is significant for the Australian media industry: ABC reports that the Australian media does not currently employ more journalists in the mainland of China. This has not happened since 1972, when Canberra normalized relations with Beijing.
Some Australian journalists still work in China, but all work for Australian media companies.
Another Australian news agency reported that Canberra had advised Chinese reporter Will Glasgow against deportation. He tweeted that Glasgow was currently in Australia but was due to leave for Guangzhou last Sunday.
Trevor Watson, an ABC correspondent in Beijing from 1988 to 1990, told CNN Business that there had been a significant change in the way the Chinese government views Australian journalists.
When Watson worked in the country, including when the Tiananmen Square protests closed in 1989, “there was a realization that ABC and Australian journalists worked independently of their government.”
That has changed significantly now, he said.
“They’re lucky to be out of there,” he said of Burtles and Smith. “I think it’s been a long time since I ‘ve been a regular visitor to China since 1979.”
Smith told CNN Business that it was “really sad” to be forced to leave China.
“It’s hard to be a foreign correspondent in China,” he added. “It’s very difficult for people to talk to you. It’s becoming more authoritarian. I think it’s becoming more dangerous and it’s really highlighting.”
He said prior to the incident, he had denied that there was any danger to Australians in China.
“If they are going to impose an exit ban on journalists, you do not know what they are going to do with a prominent businessman or someone else who is in trouble,” he added.
Journalists in China
Earlier this year, Beijing effectively expelled a dozen journalists from the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. The Trump administration has reduced the number of Chinese citizens allowed to work in U.S. offices in the Chinese state media.
Since then, Washington has designated the growing U.S. offices of government news organizations in China as “foreign missions,” asking them to submit paperwork to U.S. authorities regarding their financial affairs and officials. Beijing retaliates by demanding multiple US toilets in China.
In the first half of 2020 alone, China expelled a record 17 foreign journalists, according to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.
“At least 12 foreign correspondents in China have received punishable truncated long-term visas, sometimes as short as 1 year, compared to standard year-long visas,” the group added. This comes in addition to harassment and surveillance by foreign journalists, including physical assault and cyber-attacks.
– Angus Watson, Steven Jiang and Chandler Thornton contributed to this report.