Chen Yonglin’s case a political minefield

Whether you think Chen is a traitor, an alarmist, an opportunitst or a hero, one thing is certain: his defection has catapulted the topic of Chinese espionage into the global spotlight and is fast creating a public relations nightmare for China at a time when it would rather the world focus on the upcoming Beijing Olympics and all the great things China is doing to prepare for them. No such luck.

A week later, the Chinese spy affair is no joke. The incredulity has been tempered by news of two other Chinese security officials backing Chen and promising supporting documents. Now the Australian and Chinese governments are facing questions.

Potentially, it could be China’s worst nightmare, the beginning of new global scrutiny of its human rights abuses before the crowning ceremony of the nation’s economic and political emergence, the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

For the Howard Government, there is concern about why – at a time of close relations between Australia and China – it rebuffed Chen, and shunned a rich seam of information about China’s spy network in Australia, China and other countries.

From the mundane to the dramatic, from petty vandalism to high-tech eavesdropping and abductions, Chinese dissidents have a wealth of tales of Chinese harassment and surveillance.

It has always been assumed that China had an active spy network in Australia; every nation uses espionage and some intelligence officials are even formally revealed to foreign governments. But intelligence experts say the Chinese spy differently, relying heavily on informants in the Chinese diaspora. And what is emerging is a spy network far more extensive and more active than many thought. Just as damaging for China is new evidence of horrific and systematic abuses against dissidents back in their homeland.

Chen made the initial claims but, as he has gone back into hiding, Hao Fengjun, a member of China’s state security bureau who sought asylum in February, has filled out the picture of a sophisticated and widespread network of intelligence gathering.

A member of the notorious “610” unit that prosecuted Falun Gong in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, he came to Australia with a file of highly sensitive information downloaded from his work computer. “It is not a question of 1000 spies in Australia, it is a network of informants, recruited and directed from outside the Chinese diplomatic missions in Australia. These persons report directly to the state security bureau in China,” he says.

A search of news headlines will show you that this is now a major international incident, and Australia comes across nearly as bad as China. (Well, not quite.) Reading the article cited above (especially the begining), I couldn’t help think this was movie material — the dashing young diplomat with wife and kids fleeing the torturing, blood-stained Chinese Gestapo only to find he was delivering himself to the enemy….

Pity, that Australia decided to cast itself as a villain when it could have been the knight in shining armor. The Australian media are having a field day savaging Howard for the way he botched this up.

The defection – or rather the attempted defection – of Chinese consular official Chen Yonglin is proving to be most revealing of the thinking in the Australian foreign policy establishment, and of our government’s singular lack of courage…

Make no mistake: in Beijing they are horrified by this defection. They know that if western intelligence gets the opportunity to thoroughly debrief Chen it will be a serious blow.

All this being so, Australia’s astonishing refusal to grant immediate asylum, forcing Chen to go underground rather than receiving immediate sanctuary (with the concomitant debriefing), requires some consideration.

“Some consideration” — how’s that for Australian understatedness? What he means is the government should be drawn and quartered. And it will be, at least in the eyes of the world.

The Discussion: 19 Comments

howard and australia as the ‘knight in shining armor’? long gone!

just google the words ‘australia’ and ‘detention camp’. you can also add the keyword ‘tampa’ as well for more enlightenment. WHAT A TRAVESTY! i don’t know how any australian can hold his/her head up in the face of what has happened under howard.

howard will dump chen yonglin in a flash without any scruples for the sake of expediency. the only surprise is why he hadn’t tossed him overboard already.

June 10, 2005 @ 12:25 pm | Comment

I know, you’re quite right about Howard. But it would have been nice if he’d tried to clear his name by handling this with just a bit of sensitivity.

June 10, 2005 @ 12:28 pm | Comment

ESWN, don’t pester them, the Ozzies are just feeling good.

June 10, 2005 @ 12:28 pm | Comment

Compare the Australian govt’s harsh treatment of Chen Yonglin with its over the top approach to the drug smuggler Schapelle Corby in Bali. They pulled out all the stops – even paying for her legal team and sending two of Australia’s best lawyers to help her. Australia has a deep seated racism and the government plays to this – favouring the poor white girl in an Asian prison, while spurning the Chinese defector.
Would you believe when Chen “came out” at the Sydney rally on 4th June he was heckled by some passing Aussie bloke who kept shouting “What about all the Aussies in Asian prisons? Why don’t you care about them, eh? ” They just don’t get it.

June 10, 2005 @ 4:57 pm | Comment

I thought Australians were so sweet, in a naive and charming kind of way. You know, like Crocodile Dundee…

June 10, 2005 @ 5:01 pm | Comment

Im sure there’s more than one Australian out there who would love to slap you for that comparison. hahaha

June 10, 2005 @ 9:07 pm | Comment

The Australian fixation about the Corby case isn’t based on racism in the sense that it reveals an Australian hatred of other races. It merely reveals something I constantly observe here, which is a massive case of patriotism … that is hidden most of the time under a cynical Aussie type “we’re too cool for all that American flag waving stuff.” Basically, Corby is Aussie and she looks kind of cute, so she must be innocent. Having said that, a Sydney Morning Herald poll showed that the majority opinion of respondents was “Don’t know if she’s guilty or not, but I don’t trust the Indonesian justice system to give her a fair go.” … and, to be fair to the Aussies … does anyone here trust the Indonesian justice system to give anyone a fair go? If there’s a country in Asia that rivals China for corruption, it’s Indonesia.

And that treatment of Chen is simply a case of the government trying to have its cake and eat it too. They don’t want to offend China, and they don’t want to send him back. Thus the constant insistence that it will just be dealt with through normal channels etc. Let’s face it, there are PLENTY of people in Australia under protection visas, including from China.

June 10, 2005 @ 9:21 pm | Comment

Yes, well said FSN9, finally a voice of reason.

A few people here in China have mentioned the Corby case to me so I’m assuming that it received good coverage in the Chinese press. The people I’ve spoken to hold it up as if it confirms all their worst suspicions not only about Aus but about the west as well.

One guy said that white people will always look down upon Aisans. What a sad statement.

Indonesia, in a lot of areas is even worse than China for corruption and abuse of power. That’s why I think Indonesia should get it’s own house in order before complaining that Aus isn’t respectful enough to it’s institutions.

June 10, 2005 @ 10:57 pm | Comment

I like to think the Corby case as another example of telegenic young white woman tragic victim media circus farce. Would anybody had cared if Laci Peterson was ugly or black or 10 years older? If Terri Schiavo was a black Muslim male, George W. Bush would have pulled the plug himself. 25 000 General Motors workers are going to be laid off in the States and yet there’s more media coverage to some missing blonde twit in Aruba. Shakes head in disgust.

June 11, 2005 @ 6:22 am | Comment

I wrote this in the comments section of another blog:

“The Australian government was trying to make it look like they were working in the best interests of China by it’s initial actions, but some officials are probably secretly glad that this case has been made so public.

“Now they can wash their hands clean and say ‘they had no choice but to provide protection given public and political ramifications.’

This’ll give China room to concede with dignity and make it sound like they are doing our government a favour. All sides can sidestep the minefield if played correctly.”

June 11, 2005 @ 6:56 am | Comment

Corby is white because most of Australia is white, it’s that simple I’m afraid.

25,000 GM workers?

June 11, 2005 @ 7:43 am | Comment

The Chinese and the Australians have a great deal in common actually – both are very racist! Most Chinese are very racist, especially towards black people, but also towards white people, and even towards other Asians – particularly towards Indians and Pakistanis, and towards the Japanese.

Most Australians are racist towards Asians, and towards their indigenous peoples – the Aborigines.

Most Americans are racist too for that matter. I know, because I have lived in all three of these countries. White Americans are racist towards black Americans, Hispanic Americans and towards Asian Americans, and at the moment, especially towards Arab Americans. And let us not forget the Klu Klux Klan – they’re still active, especially down south!

The Germans – well, they’re all racists too aren’t they, especially towards their Turkish. I mean, how many violent racist attacks were there in Germany last year? Somewhere around 40 thousand reported attacks, if I’m not mistaken. And in France an average of 10 thousand violent racist attacks are reported every year. And in Britain – well, I don’t know how many, but they too vote racist neo-Nazis into local government seats – like those British Nationalist Party thugs! And look at all the many thousands of reported racist attacks that occur each year in Spain.

O.K. So while racist attacks do occur in Australia, the number is very very low, when compared with the number of attacks that occur each year in Western European countries, and even when compared with the number of racist attacks that occur each year in the US, or in Canada even.

But still, Australians are racist nevertheless – they’re just more likely to express their attitudes through the use of verbal abuse rather than through the use of physical violence.

But us Kiwis, well, we ain’t racist. Most of us aren’t, anyway. In New Zealand, you won’t find any Klu Klux Klans, no neo-Nazi groups, no Pauline Hansons, no racist losers of these sorts.


June 11, 2005 @ 8:44 am | Comment

I don’t know much about the Corby case but I heard that there was an Australian man of Vietnamese descent who was also given 20 years for being a drug mule in Indonesia. Nobody is lifting a finger to help him. My point is certain people are given more favorable media coverage depending on what sex and race they belong to. Called it racism if you want.

General Motors has announced they’re slashing 25000 manufacturing jobs in the US by 2008. I was surprised that the US media isn’t make a big deal out of this preferring to concentrate on the student missing in Aruba. Personally, I see GM as a dinosaur company who might go under unless they make some radical changes.

June 11, 2005 @ 3:27 pm | Comment

Actually, the General Motors story got enormous press here, but it came as no surprise and there was no outcry from the workers laid off — they knew for many months this was coming, and GM has extremely generous severance packages. But you’re completely right, WKL, about race. The US media (and all Western media?) are urtterly obsessed with what’s known as “Damsels in Distress” — the pretty white woman who runs away or is kidnapped or mourdered or whatever, and the entire nation is glued to their sets watching for the slightest bit of news about her. (ESWN has a great post on this topic today.) It helps sell ads and boost viewership, and it’s sickening. No concern for the poor black girl who’s raped and murdered. The victim has to meet certain set criteria when it comes to looks, skin color and age (younger is always better, as Jon Benet Ramsey voyeurs will tell you).

I remember, a long time ago, when the news was actually about important news. Now it’s lurid infotainment, geared to win the attetnion of white consumers.

June 11, 2005 @ 8:28 pm | Comment

” It helps sell ads and boost viewership, and it’s sickening. ”

Richard, I think you are very idealist. Media for profit, will inevitably cater to prejudice to boost viewship. The good old media you have in mind, is either an illusion in your mind, or if it ever existed, it is in unstable state.

Just like the governing of Jedi in Star Wars. After I watched the recent Star War, I think Jedi is doomed sooner or later, even without Darth Vader. The whole system is based on the selfishless of Jedi. That is not a stable system.

June 11, 2005 @ 9:35 pm | Comment

Bryce … take your head out of your arse. You’re holier-than-though Kiwi bashing of Aussies is so far off course, that I feel at liberty to be more abusive than I usually am. I also feel free to tell you that you’re a moron, because I am a kiwi too (a fact never before revealed on TPD I think!). It isn’t present in NZ? Talk about one-eyed commenting! Just because Winston Peters happens to be part Maori, it’s given a legitimacy to NZ asian bashing … and the fact that the Maoris are more anti-asian than anyone else also seems to give it a cover. After all, if black people don’t like asians, it must be ok, since after all, only white people can be racist. The main difference between NZ and Australia in that sense is that Pauline Hanson got ruthlessly persecuted, and ultimately jailed for no very good reason. NZers have nothing to crow over!

As for Australia being a racist society? What utter nonsense. It is true that NZ tends to be more friendly to foreign VISITORS, but that’s more in a sense of a traditional of hospitality. So, it’s fairly common to hear people saying “NZers are more friendly than Aussies” … and to an extent it’s true. But it’s also true that NZ is a much smaller place, and bigger cities always tend to be hard places to make friends. So, speaking as a NZer, I would say that just because NZ has a village mentality, and tend to be quite friendly (on a superficial level), it doesn’t say anything about NZ being fundementally better than Australia.

In 7 years in Australia, in which I have interacting with an enormous number of asian people, I have never witnessed nor heard of a serious incident of racist abuse. I have heard a Greek factory owner saying “I used to hire all kinds, but now I only hire asians. They don’t have as much personality, most of them, but they all show up to work, and work hard.” (true quote from recent days). I’ve heard a few asians complaining about racism, and probed them for what they’ve meant. Without exception, it’s turned out that it wasn’t a real case of racism. The best example was a Chinese girl convinced that white people looked down on her. One day, someone behind her said “shit!” … and she took this as proof positive that white people think asian people are shit. The guy probably just realised he’d left his keys in the car. I have seen less racism in Australia than I have seen in England, HK, or NZ, the 3 other counties I have lived in. Sydney is a cosmopolitan paradise, where people of all races and creeds really can mix together peacefully. There’s an occasional incident involving morons, but the ones that involved drunken louts of the street shouting stuff … and what country doesn’t get those? Oh, and funnily enough, they almost never involve classic anglo-type Aussies … the people shouting the abuse tend to belong to an ethnic minority group themselves.

I’ve also been looking for share accomodation, and been refused because I’m not asian. You frequently see adverts for flatmates stating “asian only” or written only in Chinese (which has the same effect, even if I can read it.) And I have seen plenty of abuse and exploitation of Chinese people in Sydney … by other Chinese. My god, it’s absolutely disgusting what Chinese employers do to Chinese workers here … So if you’re Chinese and reading this, and going to go and study in Australia, and will be looking for a part time job, I’ve got some very good advice for you. If you go into a shop, and there’s a Chinese boss, go away and find another place to apply for a job. Chinese people say they love China, but it doesn’t translate to loving and caring for other Chinese!

June 11, 2005 @ 9:42 pm | Comment

I’d like to echo those points on Australia – I think there is some racism, just look at its history – but when I was there none of my friends, white, black, or asian, ever reported racist attacks. As I’ve said in other posts, almost all of my asian friends have reported racism in the UK.

June 11, 2005 @ 10:21 pm | Comment

Filthy Stinking Shit or whatever your stupid name is – you failed to appreciate the fact that when I said “us Kiwis aren’t racist” I was merely being playful, sarcastic. my whole piont was that racists exist everywhere! Not just in Australia.

It is you, my stinking friend, who needs to pull his head out of his arse!


June 15, 2005 @ 1:41 am | Comment

To this whole debate, Id like to add one thing: racism should not be confused with xenophobia. The two are different.

I dont think racism is the classical skin color sense is that prevalent in most major parts of the world is, but xenophobia is EVERYWHERE.

I am an Indian and was in Germany, and flew via Istanbul. The Turkish airline crew was rude, and so were the people at the airport. I dont know if it is anti-Indian xenophobia or anti-brown or what, but it was bloody upsetting.

But then, Indians are racist too.

April 30, 2006 @ 2:32 pm | Comment

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