Chinese defector’s story grows stranger

I think it was pretty obvious from the start that this was an unusual incident and that jumping to conclusions would be risky. That seems to be confirmed as defector Chen Yonglin claims Australian officials tried to warn the Chinese of his plan and stop his defection.

The fugitive diplomat Chen Yonglin says Australian officials immediately tipped off his bosses and repeatedly urged him to return to the Chinese consulate, despite his pleas that he was in grave danger.

Mr Chen, a long-term diplomat in Sydney with access to highly sensitive information, is the highest-profile defection since the Petrov affair in 1954. But in an interview with The Age yesterday, he said his bid for political asylum was refused within 24 hours of his defection 10 days ago without even a meeting.

Mr Chen, 37, who is in hiding with his wife and six-year-old daughter said the information he offered on China’s spies and kidnappings in Australia had been spurned. At every turn, he had been discouraged from applying for asylum and denied a haven….

Mr Chen attempted to defect on the morning of May 26, when he walked into Immigration Department offices near Sydney’s Central railway station with his wife, Jin Ping, and daughter, Chen Fangong.

He says his request to meet with the department’s state director, Jim Collaghan, was rejected and other officers then called the Chinese embassy. The Chinese consulate called his mobile, so he quickly left with his family, taking a train to Gosford, north of Sydney. He left behind a letter, a copy of which has been obtained by The Age.

It revealed his position in the consulate and that he had been charged with monitoring the activities of the “five poisonous groups”

of Chinese dissidents for four years, including the Falun Gong, democracy advocates and separatists from Tibet, Taiwan and East Turkistan. Mr Chen said he had helped the dissidents, an act that would be viewed as treason by China and would soon be discovered by his successor….

Mr Chen told The Age: “I didn’t think it would happen like this. Australia is a democratic country. I thought they would help me. My family is desperate. We are helpless. We need to be in a safe place.”

The plot certainly thickens. Why would the Australian bureaucrats refuse to meet with him and try to turn him over to the Chinese? Or is Chen just a compulsive and habitual liar? (His claim of “1,000 Chinese spies in Australia” hasn’t exactly boosted his credibility, unfortunately.) I don’t pretend to have even the vaguest idea, but I think we’re about to watch an interesting tale of international intrigue unfold.

The Discussion: 27 Comments

I think, honestly, Australia would have to be stupid to take him and stupid to turn him away. Intelligence agencies the world over would probably love to talk to the guy, but obviously Hu’s carrot and stick diplomacy wouldn’t be very happy with the decision. And Australia wants the money…

“you can keep your marxist ways, for it’s only just a phase, for it’s money money money makes the world go round….” Monty Python

June 5, 2005 @ 6:43 pm | Comment

And Australia is in the midst of the free trade agreement negotiations with China, so there is the money money money.

And Australia is developing a nasty habit of denying political asylum to mainlanders. I’ve been looking for information on a case that I wrote about a year ago, with nada. The Australians sent back this dissident’s assistant almost immediately and have been squeamish about granting asylum to well-known dissident.

June 5, 2005 @ 6:47 pm | Comment

let me throw another twist in your plot.

people are seriously under-estimating the australians. i believe that australian counter-intelligence knew exactly who this man was, and what he had been up to. anyone who is tied to the chinese embassy must have been watched, especially someone who seemed to be involved in intelligence collection.

the aussies knew he was a fake, or incompetent, or a reverse mole, or whatever. they just didn’t want him, although they couldn’t give him the real reason.

give the aussies some credit.

June 5, 2005 @ 8:54 pm | Comment

Tom just hit on what I was going to say.
Free trade TALKS

June 5, 2005 @ 8:58 pm | Comment

I like eswn’s sort of paranoid angle on this, and I posted a comment to a similar effect on Jing’s blog recently.

The story’s so ridiculous (a 1000-man spy ring? What do they all do???) that maybe this guy’s a spy himself. After all, people in the Chinese government with these sorts of responsibilities just don’t do things like “defect.”

Really, the paranoid view would be a win-win situation for China.

Situation 1. Australia releases the guy. It looks like China has got Australia tamed with the trade agreement. China gets prestige. Australia looks like China’s bitch.

Situation 2. Australia keeps the guy and he feeds the Australians all sorts of information. Maybe the guy rats on Falun Gong members who are really “undercover operatives”; furthermore, he gets frequent contact with high-ups in Australian security. China can reprimand Australia by holding back on the trade deal. China gets good intelligence, other people persecute its dissidents and also maybe gains some diplomatic muscle.

But really, who the hell knows…

June 5, 2005 @ 10:44 pm | Comment

I think that if Australia keeps him, he’ll have to spill the beans to them, and they won’t tell him anything. It’s been done too sloppy to trust the guy anyway.

June 5, 2005 @ 11:37 pm | Comment

I think he is an honest diplomat who is secretly a spy who is pretending to be a diplomat who is a spy who…..

I mean really…. this is one of those issues where the speculation could go on and on. Things don’t seem to be making sense about the case. However, more info is needed……info we will probably never get.

June 5, 2005 @ 11:37 pm | Comment

Australia’s a racist backwater

June 6, 2005 @ 2:04 am | Comment

australia is a racist backwater, but it also transcends racism. this is a very strange notion, and you have to be a minority who has lived there to understand.

how so? australians seemed mean and nasty — they call you names to your face: chinks, gooks, boongs, whatever. if you get angry, you are missing the point.

the point is that you need to look at the person, and toss back whatever insults appropriate to the person — pommies, micks, wogs, whatever.

australia is the country of perfect equality. everybody can curse everybody else out with epithets. and then you go down to the pub, have a few pints and get ‘pissed’ (=drunk). by comparison, i am much more comfortable in australia than in the united states.

June 6, 2005 @ 3:01 am | Comment

You can see my pictures of Chen Yongling’s “defection” here:

I saw him speaking on Saturday and I think he’s for real. When he made the throwaway comment about 1000’s of spies, he didn’t mean paid up secret agents, he meant “civilians” prepared to do a favour for the PSB. Snoopers, informers, helpers. He described how he recruited them himself, asking students to report on any of their classmates who got involved in political activities or into Falun Gong. He made very specific [and lengthy and tedious] descriptions of Chinese govt activities he’d been privy to in Australia.

I think he made a big mistake trying to seek political asylum in Australia, a country that has adopted locking up Asian asylum seekers as a central plank of its rednck-pleasing policy. The diplomatic service are the cream of the crop and Chen could have simply left and quietly made moves to settle in a western country. Making all this fuss has made him persona non grata in Australia. The govt must be just wishing he would go away for a year or two – and that’s probably what they’ll do – tell him to shut up and let him get by on a series of three month bridging visas like they do the other “luckier” asylum seekers.

It has put the Australian government in a tight spot. They are hypocrites, talking about freedom and democracy and being assertive against dictators. But the reality is they can’t ignore the massive Chinese market for Australia’s mineral wealth.

So don’t be too surprised by the actions of our immigration officials. Remember these are the people who recently deported an Australian woman to the Philippines because of her skin colour, and put another woman behind razor wire for 18 months because she had schizophrenia and believed she was German. And if you think the Australian secret service are smart, you are seriosly overestimating them. The smart agents left after the secret service backed up all those WMD claims of our allies.

The Australian government will treat Chen as shabbily as it has treated most other champions of democracy and freedom when it suits them. They sold out East Timor for oil. They will sell out a minor diplomat even more readily to protect the interests of mineral corporations like BHP.

Just watch and see.

June 6, 2005 @ 6:14 am | Comment

Mike I think you’ve fallen for the media circus on the two immigration department cock-ups. In both cases, the women involved gave Australian officials false names. The “German” spoke German, and said she was German. The other woman also gave a name under which she was NOT known as an Australian citizen. Both situations were tremendously bad mistakes, and heads really should roll over them … but I disagree with you that they were matters of policy.

June 6, 2005 @ 8:07 am | Comment

Correct me if I’m wrong, but was it not your immigration minister recently saying that her department may have been a little “overzealous” in applying their deportation policy? Is it now Aust govt policy that you must speak English and carry your passport round with you at all times?

And I think it is also Australian government policy to put the children of asylum seekers in prison camps. Sixty odd at the last count. The fact is that Australia has a popular policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers [and what is Chen if not an asylum seeker?]. The Australian dept of immigration was recently revealed to have a long list of botched detentions and deportations. My point is that Chen can expect little sympathy from either the Aust govt or people. It is certainly not surprising that an immigration official would
dob him in to the Chinese authorities. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him end up behind the razor wire at Port Hedland along with his wife and daughter. No awkward TV crews to ask questions out there.

June 6, 2005 @ 8:32 am | Comment

i love eswn’s “theory”, but for another reason – “1000 spies”

there are many businessmen i met talk in a way with a lot of “10000”,”3000″,”500000″,”800000″, most of these guys are proved to be incredible

btw, i have my “theory” to explain the case – those “Australian bureaucrats” are “chinese spies” Mr Chen doesn’t know but they are connected to those “1000 spies”, so they just refuse to meet Chen to protect themselves:)

June 6, 2005 @ 9:07 am | Comment


Could you translate that into English? Chinglish would be okay too.

June 6, 2005 @ 10:17 am | Comment

Ever wondered what a dead man looks like?

Chen Yonglin, a mid-level Chinese diplomat recently attempted to defect to Australia. He has been denied asylum. Apparently he wasn’t even allowed to speak to anyone of importance within the Australian government, in addition the claim was rejec…

June 6, 2005 @ 1:39 pm | Comment

Mike … back to my point (and not some other point that you seem to be refuting, but which I didn’t make). In both cases, the Australian authorities had unidentified individuals on their hands. In both cases, they gave information to those authorities indicating strongly that they were foreign nationals. Those handling their cases made major mistakes, but their principle mistake was to take the people at their word. When they said my name is “X”, the officials assumed that that really was their name, and when they checked their records … well, what do you know, they’re not Australians. No, you don’t have to carry around your passport all the time … but if someone is checking your identity, and asks you for your name, you better tell them the truth. The shocking thing about these two cases is that it took so long to discover the cock-up, and in the case of “Alvarez” (as she identified herself), that once they realised their mistake, they did not take urgent action to fix the situation. That is the scandal. I don’t care what country you’re in … if you get picked up as a suspected illegal migrant, you better identify yourself pretty damn quick, and the last thing you should do is tell them you’re German, or give them a name that you’re not known by in that country.

And Mike … go check the Australian immigration laws. They’re needlessly complicated I know, but because Chen has been in the country for the last 4 years, as an applicant for a protection visa, he will NOT be subject to mandatory detention.

June 6, 2005 @ 8:59 pm | Comment

‘When he made the throwaway comment about 1000’s of spies, he didn’t mean paid up secret agents, he meant “civilians” prepared to do a favour for the PSB. Snoopers, informers, helpers.’

This is correct and is a common method used by the CCP worldwide.

June 6, 2005 @ 11:37 pm | Comment

“Could you translate that into English? Chinglish would be okay too.”

gordon, you must forgive my poor english, i bet my english would be much better if i were sent to australia as the Spy No. 1001. sorry i was refused when i applied for the popular post because PSB thought i read too much Peking Duck and Horses Mouth and therefore had a high possibility of fleeing the post. too bad i forgot to tell them i also read a lot of Sun Tzu!

btw, thank you for translating “give me liberty or give me death” into chinese, perfect translation.

June 6, 2005 @ 11:43 pm | Comment

well, he must be mad. it is highly unlikly that australia government will issue him a right to stay. BHP loves China….
yesterday, i watched the interview of chinese embessor to australian with ABC. Chen’s claims about spy network maybe true, but who’s cares…. australian intelligence knew this, that’s a open secret…
Chen’s information maybe valuable, but not so helpful for australia, especailly, this time— there is a free-trade neg. taking place,and australia so wanted…
those days, reading the responds from the australia public, clearly see that, they don’t care much….
forget about human rights, china is moved on, world isn’t at the 1950’s….
Pity him…

June 7, 2005 @ 12:07 am | Comment

Actually, the a poll on one of the australian newspaper webpages gave a majority vote to letting him stay and a small minority to sending him back. only 3,000 people have answered so far, but that’s like getting a poll of 80,000 people in China! You know, cause there aren’t many people in Oz. Anyway, it looks like Aussies want him to stay, or at least, those who are vocal are in favor of him staying. At the moment.

June 7, 2005 @ 1:26 am | Comment

“those who are vocal are in favor of him staying”

I like this

June 7, 2005 @ 3:37 am | Comment

Which makes the argument a balanced one, I think

June 7, 2005 @ 3:37 am | Comment

1000 spies? Perhaps not on the payroll as such, but certainly not unbelievable. Just last Thursday the Australian ran a front-page story citing Australian officials who said China has more spies in Australian tha any other country has, and ASIO is particularly concerned about targeting China’s spy network in Australia. In light of this, what makes no sense at all are not Chen’s claims, but ASIO’s refusal to talk to him about them.

Don’t underestimate the ethical weakness facading as economic pragmatism of the Australian Coalition government. Only today (8 June) has a federal minister (Tony Abbott) finally come out and said in plain English the only right thing to do is to grant Chen a protection visa, while the responsible minister concerning Chen’s application for territorial asylum, Alexander Downer is (as usual) finding himself in a worsening row over statements he’s made that conflict with the facts, and the Immigration minister’s comments regarding Chen’s application.

Meanwhile, a second defector, Hoa Fengjin, who worked for the so-called “6/10” department of the National Security Bureau, also claims ASIO has been ignoring Chinese intelligence documents on Australia for months which he delivered to ASIO.

It’s so typical of this government to put economic prizes above all else, particularly human rights issues, but enough is enough. The Coalition needs to stop kowtowing to China because Australia’s starting to look like a big whimp.

The Trade Minister’s comments from Beijing yesterday to the effect that seeing as Beijing didn’t raise the issue (of Chen’s and Hoa’s defections) with him, Australia must be doing the right thing, are particularly enlightening in respect of this: For God’s sake, since when is, of all things, Beijing’s assent or dissent on a matter a marker of whether Australia’s doing the “right thing”???

June 8, 2005 @ 1:07 pm | Comment

By the way, this is not the first time Australia under this government has acted the moral coward when it comes to matters pertaining Chinese politics. Other examples include:

-When the Dalai Lama visited, the government refused to host or acknowledge him altogether,

-Conversely, when a senior CCP official instrumental in the Tiananmen Square massacre visited, protests were banned at an official dinner the government threw for him. A Greens senator who protested anyway was arrested,

-Falun Gong was banned from participating in a Melbourne Spring Festival Parade on the basis that it is not a legitimate Chinese cultural group,

All so as not offend poor little victimized China.

June 8, 2005 @ 1:20 pm | Comment

Go Daniel Go!

Couldn’t agree more.

June 8, 2005 @ 1:55 pm | Comment

Daniel, fantastic points you’re making. Thanks.

June 8, 2005 @ 2:16 pm | Comment

It appears that Australia is on it’s knees and single-handedly reserecting the Tribute System.

June 9, 2005 @ 4:56 am | Comment

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