Australia needs on the ground in China, says a correspondent who fled the country after his home was raided and one of Australia's leading experts on the country.
Journalist Michael Smith and Professor Jane Golley were joined by Wang Xining, China's deputy head of mission in Canberra for the launch of the China Story Yearbook for 2020 at the National Press Club on Wednesday.
"I think China has reached a point where if journalists, whether we could have stayed or not and remained safe is unclear," Mr Smith said.
"But when your employer and government doesn't feel like you're safe, and have to leave - that is what happened with the BBC - I don't think that's a good situation. I don't think it does China any favours."
Mr Smith said one of the big tragedies was that Australia is the only major world power that no longer has correspondents on the ground in China reporting back to local media outlets, missing out of the "best stories" talking to ordinary people in China.
"This is a real tragedy for our understanding of this sort of really complicated and important country, as well as the way we look at the Chinese people."
Professor Jane Golley, said pursuing the truth was difficult in the case of China, in part because of its size and complexity.
"That's why more than ever we really do need our journalists on the ground in the country because there is no substitute for seeing the place," Professor Golley said.
"I certainly hope we'll continue to be able to have a presence there for journalists and academics who need access to the country including in Xinjiang so we can actually see what's going on."
China's Wang Xining preferred to talk about Australia's suspicions of, and restrictions on, Huawei, a government decision he described as "unethical, illegal, immoral".
"I'd love to see an open debate between Huawei engineer and the representative from your security and intelligence department to find out what could be a threat," Mr Wang said.
Asked directly if Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who has been detained in China since August last year, will ever see her children again, Mr Wang said these cases would be handled according to Chinese legal procedure.
"I would disagree with [the claim] my government no longer welcomes foreign journalists because our policy is we welcome journalists from every corner of the world," Mr Wang said.
"But unfortunately you mentioned certain cases related to BBC journalists who failed to present a truthful image or a truthful happening in some part of China.
"We never discriminate against any journalists, but we hope foreign journalists in China will present the true image of China."
Understanding the multi-dimensional cultural diversity of China was a challenge for everyone, he said, including Chinese people.
"We need to learn a lot to study a lot in order to battle with what is happening on the ground," Mr Wang said. "So I never pretend I understand all of China, but I hope no foreign expert or foreign journalist would pretend that they know all and give China a label."
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