Over the past four years, Chen Yonglin, a senior Chinese diplomat from the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney, had attended every rally commemorating the June Fourth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Sydney. Chen would normally stay behind the crowd, covertly taking photos of participants and then sending them back to the security department in China. This year, however, Chen stepped forward to the front, publicly announcing his defection and criticizing the Chinese Communist government.
"The current regime is just a power representing those who already have power. All those people who join the Communist Party, it’s not for the people, it’s for their own individual purpose," Chen said, "I believe this undemocratic government will finally be overthrown by the people in China."
A week ago, Mr. Chen left his consulate post as "consul for political affairs" and sought political asylum in Australia, saying that he could no longer support his country’s refusal to embrace democratic reform or its persecution of Falun Gong members. He said that his job in Sydney had been to "monitor" political dissidents and Falun Gong practitioners in Australia and implement countermeasures against those groups.
The Australian government didn’t extend a warm welcome to Mr. Chen, turning down his application for political asylum almost immediately. Before granting Chen any protection, the immigration official even contacted Chen’s consulate for an identity check, effectively informing them of Chen’s defection.
Fearing for the safety of his wife and 6-year-old daughter, Chen went into hiding and then made his position public at the rally.
Chen revealed that there are 1,000 Chinese spies in Australia. He said that Chinese spies had previously kidnapped critics of Beijing in Australia and returned them to China.
"They have successfully been kidnapping people in Australia back to China," he said. "Each year they have kidnapped a good number." He detailed several cases of what he described as confidential consular information, including the case of former vice mayor of Xiamen City, Lan Fu, who entered Australia on November 27, 1999, on a tourist visa.
To get Lan back to China, Chinese security agents kidnapped Lan’s son, who was studying in Australia. Lan’s son was drugged and put on a boat for the "high seas," where a Chinese cargo ship took him back to China. Mr. Lan eventually went back to China in January 2000, and was tried and sentenced to death three months later.
The information provided by Chen didn’t generate much interest from the Australian government. "I told this to the Australian government when the immigration and foreign affairs officials interviewed me on the 31st of May, but they didn’t care," he said at the rally.
In contrast to the government’s indifference, the public showed great interest in Chen’s defection and his exposure of China’s overseas espionage. In the following week, a number of major media interviewed Chen or published articles about his story.
Many private groups also expressed support for Chen’s defection. In Chen’s daughter’s school, parents signed a petition letter asking the government to provide help for Chen’s family.
Chen’s public appearance prompted another Chinese official, Hao Fengjun, to break his silence. Hao was a police officer of the 610 Office (an agency set up to handle Falun Gong issues) in the Tianjin Bureau of State Security and sought political asylum in Australia after he fled China in February 2005. He backed Chen’s claim of Chinese spies in Australia and revealed that he personally handled Australian Falun Gong practitioners’ information collected by agents in Australia. Hao left his work because he no longer wanted to be involved in the persecution of Falun Gong and other religious groups.
A third, anonymous defecting official now seeking asylum in Australia also made similar statements through his attorney.
Australia’s handling of Chen’s case has drawn concern and criticism. Bob Brown, the leader of the Australian Green Party, criticized the government for not giving Chen immediate protection and requested a hearing of the event, saying that the government had put trade above human rights.
In recent years, China has become the third largest trade partner of Australia, and now the two nations are seeking to hammer out a free trade deal they say would be worth billions more.
Professor Hugh White, head of the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defense Studies Center, said China has made it clear that the development of the economic and trade relationship was dependent on Australia being sympathetic to China’s concerns on political and security issues.
"I think it does potentially put the government in a tough diplomatic position," he told ABC, "The concerns in the Australian community about the human rights of this individual are significant and valid; on the other hand, China I think will want this guy back and would tend to view a decision by the government to grant him political asylum or even refugee status … as a fairly adversarial thing to do."
As the government’s human rights obligation comes under public scrutiny, more news in connection with China’s vast network of spies broke out. It was reported that almost 50 Chinese people held in Australian immigration centers were put in isolation for more than two weeks last month and interrogated by Chinese government officials from the embassy.
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said smuggled letters had revealed some of those interviewed were asylum seekers who now feared persecution. "If it is not illegal, it is certainly reckless," he said.
The agents are targeting Chinese dissidents and are also being used to influence political thought "to turn Australia into a political colony of China," former Beijing University law professor Yuan Hongbing, the fourth Chinese defector to surface in Australia in the past month, told ABC radio.
"The term ‘political colony’ means the Chinese Communist Party will use its ideology to influence Australia’s politics and gradually turn Australia to betray its fundamental principles of freedom and democracy," Yuan said.
Along these lines, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has issued certificates each month over the last two-plus years to prevent Falun Gong members from using banners in their human rights appeal outside the Chinese Embassy in Canberra. Mr. Downer indicated that the banners "impair the dignity of the [Chinese] mission."
After repeated requests to Mr. Downer to reconsider the decision fell upon deaf ears, Falun Gong practitioners lodged a lawsuit against Mr. Downer in the Australian Capital Territory’s Supreme Court. The lawsuit is seeking a ruling from the court that deems Mr. Downer’s certificates to be illegal and to have infringed upon their right to freedom of expression.
So far, public reaction in Australia to the moves by the local government has been quite negative. By siding with the Communist government in the balance between trade and human rights, Sydney is taking a big gamble that the Communist regime will continue to prevail in China for the years to come, or that changes, if any, will only happen from within the Party.