Not just Australia — US also denied Chen Yonglin entry

I have to admit I don’t understand this.

The high-ranking Chinese diplomat who defected here two weeks ago only to be rebuffed by the Australian government says he also sought political asylum at the United States Embassy, and was turned away there as well.

The defector, Chen Yonglin, a 37-year-old career diplomat, said in his first interview with a foreign journalist that he had called the American Embassy in Canberra and followed up with a fax.

“My wife, my 6-year old daughter and I are now in a desperate status,” Mr. Chen wrote on June 4 in imperfect English in his faxed appeal, which he showed to The New York Times. “I have no choice but seeking the only hope of political asylum of the United States.” He gave his cellphone number.

Later that day, Mr. Chen said in the interview on Monday, he received a call from an American Embassy official, whose name he could not recall, who told him the United States could do nothing for him.

Why Mr. Chen was dismissed without even an interview is not clear. Generally, in the past, defectors from Communist countries, whether athletes, dancers or diplomats, have been protected and assisted with their asylum claims.

State Department won’t comment, which leads me to think Chen’s claim is true. If so, we turned away a Chinese diplomat who could almost certainly provide us with some useful information. Why did we turn him away? As the article says, we’ve given sanctuary to defectors with far lesser credentials than Chen.

I thought that by now we’d know more, and instead the story has only grown stranger. Chen, his wife and his daughter are now in virtual hiding. A virtual political hot potato.

Update: I much appreciated this opinion from an Australian professor of Chinese history:

Chen could have just gone back to China, left the foreign service and found employ in any one of the myriad businesses that would have given him a stake in the “to get rich is glorious” ethos of his fellow countrymen.

Why he chose to defect and take such a public stance against his past must give us pause. He can’t simply be dismissed, nor should his rights be derided or indeed denied.

But Chen is belatedly learning that the Australian authorities are armed with their own laws and regulations. They have been quick to deny him political asylum and he has joined the notorious queue of refugees administered by Amanda Vanstone’s near Byzantine bloatocracy.

This isn’t the late ’80s, when this nation displayed firmer humanitarian resolve. And Fu Ying is right when she avers that her country has made progress; well, at least in comparison with its horrific totalitarian past. As for Australia, we too have moved on. The thing is, we’ve gone into reverse.

The Discussion: 17 Comments

Food for thought. For a diplomat to handle a defection attempt by phone and fax seems to me to be questionable. Why would Chen not just take his family to the Embassy or to a US Consulate, go inside and ask for asylum. He would have forced an asylum interview.

June 15, 2005 @ 5:28 pm | Comment

Pete, thanks for interjecting yet another mystery!

June 15, 2005 @ 5:37 pm | Comment

yeah, this case is bizarre. I hope people keep following it.

June 15, 2005 @ 8:02 pm | Comment

yeah, i have my usual paranoid theory.

as a chinese diplomat known to be engaged in ‘spying’ over four years, chen was followed by ASIO and all information was shared with the US.

before chen walked through that door, they knew full well who he is and what he has done. they did not have to take down his name and hold an interview. they probably even knew he wanted to defect before he did, and they knew what his true motives were. of course, they are not going to tell the press that.

June 15, 2005 @ 9:31 pm | Comment

From the admittedly little I know about it, I suspect Falun Gong involvement.

June 15, 2005 @ 10:24 pm | Comment


Chinese defector Chen Yonglin says the US has also declined to acccept his application for asylum. Like Richard, I have to admit, I don’t understand this.The high-ranking Chinese diplomat who defected here two weeks ago only to be rebuffed by

June 15, 2005 @ 11:49 pm | Comment

The normal response to a defector is to try to get him to remain in place for a period to show his bon fides.

I guess there is no danger that he will be sent back. He apparently does not help Oz and US to catch any spy despite 1000 spy claim.

I will say he is a loser even in his defection skill. At least he should prepare some confidential information to make himself valueable.

June 16, 2005 @ 4:16 am | Comment


You are always going to simply label Mr. Chen a loser or a traitor or whatever and care nothing for the facts behind his unsual act because of the fact that he walked away from China.

As the Australian historian says, what he did and the way he chose to do it should give us all pause. He’s effectively exiled himself from China at best and risked his life at worst.

Only after CCP-ruled China collapses can he ever hope to return.

pete’s point is a good one. Exactly, why the phone and fax business? That suggests that he was scared of something. Being a long-term diplomat I assume he personally knew people in the US Embassy.

As Richard says himself, I still can’t quite get to grips with the fact that the US and Australia have accepted far lesser people as defecters but here you have a diplomat who was in the belly of the beast so to speak and is certainly willing to spill all sorts of priceless information and he’s being turned away.

It’s beyond my understanding.

June 16, 2005 @ 10:45 am | Comment

This case is very strange and its obvious more details are needed on it. Just because he’s a Chinese defector doesn’t mean the US wants him, it doesn’t mean he has any valuable information. He just doesn’t seem like a legitimate candidate for asylumn. The information he has is of little, if any, use to the US government and he created the necessity for asylumn. Furthermore, since he’s in Australia and, for the time being, safe there is no pressure or need for the US to take up his case, so why bother? By turning him down they don’t create a stink with the Chinese government.

June 16, 2005 @ 11:40 am | Comment

Okay, I guess loser is a little bit too strong word given his situation. I take it back.

I do agree with you that he must be holding great fear, real or imagined. For that, I feel sympathetic for his family. CCP indeed need to reflect on what makes him choose this route.

I was in college in 89 and roughly the same age as him. Even before that movement, I disdained those student activist becoming CCP member, let alone after that movement.

This fellow surely belonged to those student activist category during my college year. Those guys are simply political opportunitist and get better treatment because of political correctness. After all these years spying, he realized he was on a wrong track. No kidding.

A little thing to pay attention to: most oversea anti-CCP activitist used to be CCP member for a long time; on the other hand, those defending CCP used to disdain CCP. If you do not believe me, do a survey yourself.

June 16, 2005 @ 11:53 am | Comment

Ok boran, that makes some sense. I think the speculation re the US was due to the fear that Australia would turn him away but does not seem to be the case now.

I agree, I suspect there are futher details to come out and I’m sure there’s a lot of things that we don’t know. For all we do know the US might have already obtained all the information he has and are happy to leave him in Australia where he is safe anyway.


“I do agree with you that he must be holding great fear, real or imagined. For that, I feel sympathetic for his family. CCP indeed need to reflect on what makes him choose this route.”

I agree with your above comment and I am still shocked at the very public way that he chose to defect. Either very clever or very crazy.

Perhaps your speculation about his past student activism, he is certainly the right age, is correct. I am also the same age as you and him.

June 16, 2005 @ 12:16 pm | Comment

Any developments in the Chen case? I’ve just checked the newspapers I read online and didn’t see anything.

June 17, 2005 @ 7:53 am | Comment

You guys are missing an important thing — this guy could be a DOUBLE AGENT working for the Chinese. In other words, he’s a false defector.

Chinese are masters are espionage. perhaps US doesn’t want him because US have credible information that shows he’s a double agent.

June 17, 2005 @ 12:33 pm | Comment

If we thought he was a double agent we would have arrested him and tortured him to get his secrets. We wouldn’t just let him go without torturing him – that’s not the American way. At least not anymore.

June 17, 2005 @ 12:35 pm | Comment

if you go back to the my first comment (number 4 in order), it includes the possibilty that everything that this man had been doing for the past four years was monitored by ASIO/CIA. that is, they knew who he was and what he did. how did they know? maybe they tapped the chinese embassy and his home.

what they hear? what if there was a meeting in which it was decided he was going into deep cover as a double agent? the americans/australians could not say that they know that, because it means they were tapping him and the chinese would go and look for the listening device. they had to stay mum. and since they knew everything he did, why would they take him, torture him or whatever; he had zero value at that point. the only suckers would be the FLG and their Epoch Times, and that wouldn’t bother the aussies or yanks.

it was just impossible to believe that the americans or australians had no idea who he was or what he did after four years on the job. they had to know. and that is why the lack of apparent interest is screaming out for an interpretation.

June 17, 2005 @ 2:34 pm | Comment

A good and possible theory on Chen.

June 17, 2005 @ 8:26 pm | Comment

Yes, it is. The mystery will unravel soon enough…

June 17, 2005 @ 8:29 pm | Comment

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