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image caption‘It’s very disappointing to have to leave under those circumstances,’ Birtles said

Two Australian news outlets have removed their reporters from China over what they say is a diplomatic standoff.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Bill Birtles and the Australian Financial Review’s Mike Smith landed in Sydney on Tuesday.

Chinese authorities questioned both men before their departure. The ABC reported Birtles was “not asked about his reporting or conduct in China”.

Relations between Australia and China have deteriorated in recent years.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said consular officials had provided support to the journalists.

“Our embassy in Beijing and consulate-general in Shanghai engaged with Chinese government authorities to ensure their wellbeing and return to Australia,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.

The AFR reported that Chinese authorities had questioned the journalists about Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist for Chinese state media who has been detained since last month.

  • Who is the Australian TV anchor detained by China?

What is known?

The ABC reported that Australian diplomats advised Birtles and ABC management last week that he should leave China. He was then booked on a flight due to leave Beijing last Thursday.

But the situation escalated last Wednesday at midnight when seven Chinese police officers visited the reporter’s apartment as he held farewell drinks with friends, the ABC reported.

The officers told Birtles he could not leave the country and would later be questioned over a “national security case”, the report said.

He immediately contacted Australian consular officials, who collected him and took him to the Australian embassy, where he spent the next four days.

During that time, he was interviewed by Chinese police in the presence of Australia’s ambassador to China, Graham Fletcher.

Smith, who is based in Shanghai, also received a visit by police – prompting him to go to the Australian consulate there. Both men were questioned over Ms Lei, the AFR reported.

They were allowed to leave the country in exchange for agreeing to be interviewed by police.

What’s been the reaction?

“It’s very disappointing to have to leave under those circumstances,” Birtles said in Sydney.

“It’s a relief to be back in the country with genuine rule of law. But this was a whirlwind and it’s not a particularly good experience.”

The AFR’s editors, Michael Stutchbury and Paul Bailey, said they were glad both journalists were safe.

“This incident targeting two journalists, who were going about their normal reporting duties, is both regrettable and disturbing and is not in the interests of a co-operative relationship between Australia and China,” they said in a joint statement.

Bill Birtles and Mike Smith were the last two correspondents for Australian media working in China. Their evacuation means for the first time since the mid-1970s there are no accredited Australian journalists in the country.

China is not only Australia’s key trading partner and the biggest customer for its coal and iron ore, but it’s also one of its most important stories to cover. As tensions rise between Beijing and Canberra, the need for journalists on the ground in China becomes ever more crucial.

The ABC’s news director, Gaven Morris, said: “The story of China, its relationship with Australia and its role in our region and in the world is one of great importance for all Australians and we want to continue having our people on the ground to cover it.”

But as both countries continue to exchange political and diplomatic jabs – and with China’s broader crackdown on Western journalists – it’s hard to see when Australian reporters will be allowed back.

This development is not only a critical marker in the relationship between the two countries, it will no doubt affect Australian media coverage of this important story.

Related Topics

  • Australia

  • China
  • Journalism
  • Australia-China relations

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Pelosi: Covid relief deal could still happen before Election Day

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On Friday, Pelosi told CNN she sent Mnuchin a list of concerns “that we still had about ‘what is the answer?'”

“My understanding is he will be reviewing that over the weekend, and we will have some answers on Monday,” she said Sunday.

Pelosi said she’ll not hold out to see whether Democrats win the White House and the Senate and keep the House after in the Nov. 3 elections to pursue a bill more to Democrats’ liking. Instead, she said she’ll continue working to get a relief bill passed “as soon as possible.”

The speaker went on to say that a relief bill could be passed as soon as this week in the House, but that it’s up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whether it would go to the Senate floor.

McConnell has largely steered clear of stimulus talks recently and many GOP senators are opposed to the $2 trillion deal being discussed by Pelosi and Mnuchin. On Tuesday, McConnell softened his stance a bit, saying he would allow the Senate to vote on a Pelosi-Mnuchin agreement — assuming that first Trump agrees to sign it.

Earlier Sunday on CNN, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said, “We’ve identified those Senate Republicans most likely to vote” for the relief deal to pass. But he said Republicans will not blindly pass the bill without first reading its terms fully.

“We are not Nancy Pelosi. We are not going to vote or opine on a bill and pass it before we have read it,” he said.

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one man’s reflections on what has gone wrong with ‘the family’

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Jeremy Corbyn is elected as the new leader of Labour Party, September 2015: Forde barely hides his contempt for the MPs ‘who put a Marxist on the ballot paper’. | PA Images


4 min read

At times searing in his criticism of those he holds responsible for trashing the prospects of the Labour party, Gisela Stuart finds Matt Forde’s new book both entertaining and insightful

Matt Forde’s “Politically Homeless” is like an episode from the Archers’ in the early months of the lockdown. One man’s reflections on what has gone wrong with “the family”. To be fair to Forde, unlike the Archers, he does make you laugh.

We often think of political parties as families, and there is a reason for that. We like some members more than others, every so often we have a big row, but eventually we find a way of rubbing along. And we have secrets; things which we either all know to be true, but we would rather not talk about or which we hope will go away if we ignore them long enough.  Even when things get really bad, we rarely pack our bags and, move in with the family on the other side of the road.  

Matt Forde is as entertaining as he is insightful and like many of us, he wants to get back to the days when Labour was in government, invested in Sure Start centres, schools and hospitals, introduced a national minimum wage and ended boom and bust.

Every MP or party activist who has ever screamed and shouted at Regional Office for not doing this, that or the other, would benefit from Forde’s take on what it is like to be a regional organiser. The joys and tribulations of by-elections, ministerial visits, and photo calls. Needs must, and if that means dressing up as a chicken and stalking Charles Kennedy, then so be it. He is generous in naming some MPs he’s worked with who genuinely cared about their constituents and even occasionally said “Thank you”. He thought the late Tessa Jowell “made you behave better by her just being there” and he is right.

Every MP or party activist who has ever screamed and shouted at Regional Office for not doing this, that or the other, would benefit from Forde’s take on what it is like to be a regional organiser

But he is searing in his criticism of the string of events which started with Ed Miliband trashing the achievements of the Blair/Brown governments and culminated with the party electing Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. He barely hides his contempt for the MPs who put a Marxist on the ballot paper. He wonders if those who did so to “broaden the debate” were gutted because they couldn’t find a fascist.

Anyone who is still in doubt about the mountain Labour has to climb only needs to read his chapter on Stoke on Trent. A collection of six towns, represented by three Labour MPs, where the local council was so divided that a grand coalition of Britain’s three biggest political parties could only muster a majority of one against a collection of BNP and independent councillors who were either hard-left ex-Labour or had never been part of any political party.

Corbyn’s Labour Party hoped that by ignoring the stain of antisemitism, which became attached to the party as a whole, it would just somehow go away, which of course it didn’t. But there is an even bigger secret much of today’s Labour Party tries to not talk about. It is the simple fact that the whole point of a political party is to win elections. If you are not in power then you can’t make the changes necessary to help the people you claim to care about.

Jacqui Smith, when she was chief whip, used to remind MPs that the “worst day in government was better than the best day in opposition”. Entertaining as opposition might be, it can’t be your purpose.

It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to have a good heart-to-heart with our friends about the state of the party, drown our sorrows with a glass of wine and have a good laugh, but we can give each other Forde’s book as a Christmas present.

Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston is a Non-Affiliated peer and was Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston 1997-2017

Politically Homeless by Matt Forde is published by Quercus

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Nasa moon announcement: What is on the Moon?

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The US space agency, Nasa, has revealed conclusive evidence of water on the Moon.

Unlike previous detections of water in permanently shadowed parts of lunar craters, scientists have now detected the molecule in sunlit regions of the Moon’s surface.

Nasa has said it will send the first woman and next man to the lunar surface in 2024.

But what does this new discovery mean for this mission and future missions to the Moon?

What else is on the surface of the Moon?

BBC Science Correspondent Laura Foster explains.

Video by Laura Foster, Terry Saunders and Mattea Bubalo.

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