“Chinese authorities have advised that Ms Cheng was arrested on suspicion of illegally providing government secrets abroad,” Payne added, adding that “the Australian government has consistently raised its serious concerns over Ms Cheng’s detention, including her welfare and conditions of detention.”
Cheng was a business host at CGDN, the international arm of China’s state – owned broadcaster China, and has since erased all references to her from its website and social media.
In his spare time, Cheng was active in the Australian community in Beijing, attended events at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and served as the country’s embassy’s “alumni ambassador”.
His final post on the Chinese social networking app Wechat was the first restaurant to be opened in China by an American chain when he opened a Shake Shake outlet in Beijing on August 12th. Dressed in bright green, Cheng captioned the photos with the hashtag “Shakes are not war”.
When asked about Cheng’s detention last year, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Suning said: “China is a country under the law, and we will abide by the law.”
Cheng’s original detention came as relations between Canberra and Beijing deteriorated rapidly. After Australia called for an inquiry into the origin of the corona virus infection, China said it would trade, slap on-target products and prevent acquisitions by Australian companies.
Bill Brittles, a Beijing correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), and Mike Smith, a Shanghai correspondent for the Australian Financial Review (AFR), were said to be “interested in the investigation.” The two sought the protection of embassy officials and were finally able to leave China after 5 days of diplomatic conflict.
“I do not think he did anything deliberately detrimental to national security in any way,” Louisa Wen, Cheng’s daughter-in-law and family spokeswoman, told ABC. “We don’t know if she’s caught up in something she did not realize.”