Banned from leaving the country and fearful of interrogation and arrest, the journalists fled to their closest Australian diplomatic missions until an agreement brokered by the Australian government allowed them to answer police questions safely.
Birtles agreed to speak to the Chinese police in exchange for permission to fly back to his home country. "But you know, this was a whirlwind and it's not kind of, it's not a particularly good experience".
Both said security officials questioned them about Cheng's case in the presence of Australia's ambassador to China. Two non-Americans at Bloomberg News received a letter allowing them to work and stay in the country, in lieu of having official press credentials, which in the past were normally good for 12 months.
The Chinese government put a similar freeze on press card renewals in late 2013 for journalists from The Times and Bloomberg News because of sensitivities involving coverage.
In July, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade upgraded its travel warning for China, advising travelers that they could face "arbitrary detention". Payne said this advice "remains appropriate and unchanged".
The Australian government had earlier warned the two men to leave China, as tension escalated over the detention of another Australian citizen, Chinese state television anchor Cheng Lei.
Journalists have been a focus of souring relations between the two powers since the start of the year, with Trump's administration accusing Beijing's overseas press corps of being propagandists for the Communist Party.
"It is disappointing that after many years, Australia will not have a media organization present in China", Payne told reporters. Glasgow is now in Australia but had been due to fly to Guangzhou last Sunday, before the advice was received, he said on Twitter.
When Watson was working in the country, including when he covered the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, "there was a recognition that the ABC and Australian journalists operated independently of their government".
Australian journalists evacuated from China after five-day diplomatic standoff
"It's extraordinary, I think it's unprecedented", he said.
"I hope that can be revised in a timely way".
"Any journalist in China is at risk of this type of treatment. we shouldn't have been surprised", he told reporters.
China's politicians have increasingly become hard to reach and interpret, while its diplomatic corps - which formerly helped provide guidance to foreign counterparts and others about underlying issues, concerns and narratives - have been transformed into far less communicative "wolf warriors".
And said, when it's safe, they will have a correspondent back on the ground in China.
The FCCC has also documented increasing harassment and surveillance of foreign journalists in China, including physical assault and cyberattacks.
Foreign journalists in China have been facing scrutiny more broadly as well. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in March that more than a dozen journalists from the U.S. would be expelled from the country.
Mr Zhao said China welcomes foreign journalists and those who obey the law have "no need... to worry".
Beijing and Washington have been in a constant back to back war with each other's media outlets for a while now.
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