A Chinese-Australian journalist who was convicted on murky espionage charges and detained in China for three years has returned to Australia, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Wednesday.
Cheng Lei, 48, worked for the international department of China's state broadcaster CCTV. She has reunited with her two children in Melbourne, Albanese said.
Her return comes ahead of Albanese's planned visit to Beijing this year on a date yet to be announced.
Albanese’s government has been lobbying for the release of Cheng and another Chinese-Australian held in China since 2019, Yang Hengjun.
Bilateral relations have improved since Albanese's center-left Labor Party was elected after nine years of conservative rule. Beijing has lifted several official and unofficial trade barriers on Australian exports.
Albanese suggested that Cheng had recently been sentenced after she was convicted in a closed-court trial last year on national security charges.
“Her return brings an end to a very difficult few years for Ms. Cheng and her family. The government has been seeking this for a long period of time and her return will be warmly welcomed not just by her family and friends but by all Australians,” he added.
Albanese said he spoke to Cheng in Melbourne, where her children have been living with her mother, and that they discussed a letter she had written to the Australian public in August to mark the third anniversary of her detention. The Chinese-born journalist spoke in her letter about her love for her adopted country.
In the letter, she also described her living conditions in detention in China, saying she was allowed to stand in sunlight for just 10 hours a year.
“She is a very strong and resilient person ... and when I spoke with her she was delighted to be back in Melbourne,” Albanese said.
Albanese did not say whether Yang was also likely to be released.
“We continue to advocate for Dr. Yang’s interests, rights and wellbeing with the Chinese authorities at all levels,” Albanese said.
Yang, a 58-year-old writer and democracy blogger, told his family in August he fears he will die in a Beijing detention center after being diagnosed with a kidney cyst, prompting supporters to demand his release for medical treatment.
Yang has been detained in China since January 2019, when he arrived in Guangzhou from New York with his wife and teenage stepdaughter.
Yang received a closed-door trial on an espionage charge in Beijing in May 2021 and is still awaiting a verdict.