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Journalist previously jailed in China says people should study Mandarin in Taiwan

Former CGTN host who had been detained says 'naive people' should avoid traveling to China

Cheng Lei. 

Cheng Lei.  (Wikimedia Commons photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Chinese-Australian journalist Cheng Lei (成蕾) drew applause from a studio audience when she said people interested in improving their Mandarin can travel to Taiwan instead of China.

During an interview on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC) program "Q + A" broadcast on Tuesday (Nov. 28), host Patricia Karvelas interviewed Cheng about her take on Australia-China relations. Having only recently been released from three years of detention in China in October, Karvelas asked whether she would feel comfortable suggesting people go to China.

Cheng initially joked, "Would people believe me if I said they should?" She said that China has changed radically from when she first returned to the country in a professional capacity in 2000.

Cheng advised would-be travelers to carefully assess the situation in China. She said that she is highly wary of actions by the Chinese government taken under the guise of protecting "national security."

The journalist advised "naive people" against going. She said that only travelers who are "fully educated about the risks" should consider visiting.

Cheng said China is a huge, complex country and she has many mixed feelings about its current situation. When asked if she will ever go back, she said, "Never say never," but pointed out that she is not allowed to apply for a visa to China for 10 years.

She closed by saying, "If people want to improve their Mandarin, they could go to Taiwan." The audience could be heard laughing and applauding.

Cheng, who had been serving as the host of China's state-run CGTN at the time, was reportedly placed under "residential surveillance" by the Chinese government in August 2020. In February 2021, she was officially arrested by Chinese investigators "on suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas," reported the New York Times.

According to ABC, Cheng was tried in a secret session in a Beijing court on March 31, 2022. Cheng was released from prison and returned to Australia on Oct. 11, 2023, and revealed that she had been detained for breaking a government-imposed embargo by a few minutes.