SYDNEY, June 18 ― Australia expressed its “concern” to China today after two diplomats at a ceremonial event were accused of clumsily shadowing a high-profile journalist who spent three years detained in China.

Sky News journalist Cheng Lei said two Chinese officials went out of their way to hover next to her as Premier Li Qiang appeared inside Australia's parliament yesterday.

Cheng said it looked like they were trying to “block” her from being filmed in the same room as Li, in an apparent bid to stave off awkward headlines during the trip.

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said today that Australian “officials have followed up with the Chinese embassy to express our concern”.

“When you look at the footage, it was pretty clumsy attempt, frankly, by a couple of people to stand in between where the cameras were and where Cheng Lei was sitting,” he told national broadcaster ABC.

“And Australian officials intervened, as they should have, to ask the Chinese officials who were there at the press conference to move.”

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The incident has taken the gloss off Li's highly touted visit, the highest-ranking trip by a Chinese official to Australia since 2017.

A former anchor for Chinese state broadcaster CGTN, Cheng Lei spent three years detained in China on spying accusations before she was released to Australia in October 2023.

She has written about the bleak conditions and tough treatment she faced while in detention.

Cheng's case had been a serious point of friction between Canberra and Beijing.

“They went to great lengths to block me from the cameras and to flank me,” she told Sky News on Monday.

“And I'm guessing that's to prevent me from saying something or doing something that they think would be a bad look.

“But that itself is a bad look.” ― AFP