Partner of detained Australian journalist Cheng Lei hopeful of ‘compassionate and speedy resolution’

The Australian journalist detained in China, Cheng Lei, is trying to remain positive despite her “very difficult situation” and is grateful for messages of encouragement from supporters, her partner has said.

Cheng’s partner, Nick Coyle, said it was positive that the Australian prime minister, the foreign minister and the deputy prime minister had all raised her case in recent talks with their Chinese counterparts.

“We hope that this positive dialogue can lead towards a compassionate and speedy resolution to the current situation,” he told Guardian Australia.

Asked whether he was hopeful Cheng may be the next Sean Turnell – the Australian economist released from prison in Myanmar a week and a half ago – Coyle said: “Of course. Given that Lei’s already been incarcerated now for two years and three months, I would hope there’s an opportunity to resolve the situation fairly.”

Cheng was charged with “illegally supplying state secrets overseas” but the Australian government has repeatedly criticised a lack of transparency about the accusation.

The former business anchor for the state-owned China Global Television Network (CGTN) faced a closed trial lasting less than one day in March, but the verdict has been deferred several times. She has not been allowed to speak over the phone with her children, aged 11 and 13.

Coyle said Cheng was “dealing with everything as well as anybody possibly could”.

“She’s keeping physically, mentally and emotionally active and remaining really positive through what’s a very difficult situation for anybody to be in. She has certainly expressed her gratitude to friends, family and supporters for all the messages of support she’s received.”

The authorities now allow Cheng to write letters directly to Coyle, a development the Daily Telegraph first reported earlier this month.

With Australia and China preparing to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations in December, former prime minister Kevin Rudd urged Beijing to use the occasion to announce Cheng’s early release.

“The early release of Cheng Lei as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations would cast a significantly positive light on the overall relationship for the years ahead,” Rudd said in a speech at the Australian National University last week.

The Chinese embassy has since posted a photo on its website of Rudd meeting with the Chinese ambassador, Xiao Qian, on the same day as the speech, but it is unknown whether he directly raised Cheng’s case with the envoy.

A spokesperson for Rudd confirmed that he had met with Xiao while in Canberra on the basis of a longstanding request from the ambassador.

But Rudd’s practice was not to discuss the content of talks with any ambassador, the spokesperson said.

The independent MP Zoe Daniel said she had used a recent meeting with Xiao to reiterate “concerns already expressed to the embassy about the plight of the Australian citizen Cheng Lei, particularly about her inability to communicate with her two young children in Melbourne”.

The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, vowed to keep advocating for Cheng and for Yang Hengjun, an Australian writer and democracy activist who also is detained in China.

Cheng Lei and her partner Nick Coyle.
Cheng Lei and Nick Coyle. The Australian journalist ‘has certainly expressed her gratitude to friends, family and supporters for all the messages of support she’s received,’ said Coyle. Photograph: Nick Coyle

In an interview with Guardian Australia’s latest Australian Politics podcast, Wong said she had “consistently raised” their cases in talks with China.

Asked whether she was hopeful of a breakthrough, Wong said: “I don’t think someone in my position can speculate about that, but what I can say is I will keep advocating; I will keep saying what I am saying publicly and privately.”

Wong also spoke more broadly about the government’s efforts to stabilise the relationship with China, which included a meeting between the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, and China’s president, Xi Jinping, in Bali nearly two weeks ago. Wong has spoken with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, several times.

Wong argued the government’s push for dialogue with Beijing should not be seen as a reset of the relationship.

“I don’t use the word ‘reset’, because I think it implies that we are changing position on certain key fundamental [issues],” Wong said.

“I use the word ‘stabilise’ deliberately, because a reset to me suggests that Australia’s sort of shifting from some of the positions we’ve [had], and we’re not, we’re not shifting on national security settings, our national interest, those issues, but we are much more willing to engage and have a dialogue.”

Wong said Australia and China went into the recent discussions “looking to try and stabilise the relationship” while “recognising that there are things we both will want to say to each other”.

“And one of the things we want to say to each other from Australia’s perspective is to advocate on behalf of Dr Yang and Ms Cheng Lei.”


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