FILE - Cheng Lei, a Chinese-born Australian journalist for CGTN, the English-language channel of China Central Television, attends a public event in Beijing, China, Aug. 12, 2020.
FILE - Cheng Lei, a Chinese-born Australian journalist for CGTN, the English-language channel of China Central Television, attends a public event in Beijing, China, Aug. 12, 2020.

Australia’s foreign minister says an Australian television journalist who has been detained in China since last August has been formally arrested.   

Foreign Minister Marise Payne told reporters Monday that Cheng Lei was arrested last Friday and charged on suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas.   

The Chinese-born Cheng anchored a business show on CGTN, the English-language channel of China’s state-owned CCTV.  Cheng emigrated to Australia as a child and worked in finance before returning to China and joining CCTV.   

Payne said Canberra had raised “serious concerns” with Beijing about Cheng’s “welfare and conditions of detention.”   

“We expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms,” she said. 

Two Australian journalists based in China, Bill Birtles and Michael Smith, left the country after they were questioned by authorities about Cheng. 

Cheng’s arrest came amid an increasingly bitter rift between the two regional neighbors. Beijing has imposed heavy tariffs and restrictions on Australian agricultural imports in apparent retaliation for Australia’s push for an independent probe into the origins of the novel coronavirus, which was first detected last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. 

Another Chinese-born Australian national, spy novelist Yang Hengjun, has been held in China since January 2019 when he was arrested on suspicion of espionage.