Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Archival Rescue 60 ~ Defector seeks asylum

Desperate defector appeals to US after Australian government rejects bid for political asylum;

Chen sought asylum from US

By Tom Allard and Joseph Kerr
June 7, 2005 Sydney Morning Herald

The Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin tried to defect to the United States last week after resistance from Australian officials to his request for asylum, the Herald has learnt.

The bid was met with surprise by the US, not least because the Australian Government had not informed its close ally of the explosive diplomatic and intelligence development almost a week after it came to light.

The Minister for Immigration, Amanda Vanstone, conceded yesterday that Australia had rejected Mr Chen's bid for political asylum.

China's ambassador, Fu Ying, promised that Mr Chen would not face jail or execution if he returned home, even though he had tarnished China's image.

Mr Chen - a senior diplomat at China's Sydney consulate who was responsible for monitoring dissidents among the Chinese diaspora in NSW - attempted to defect on May 26, weeks before he was due to be posted back to Beijing.

He says he was a democracy advocate and had helped Falun Gong members, among others, behaviour his successor in the Sydney consulate was likely to uncover.

Australian officials informed the Chinese Government, denied Mr Chen's plea for a safe meeting place and rejected his bid for political asylum without interviewing him.

On May 31 - after being told by a foreign affairs officer that his bid had failed and encouraged to apply for a tourist visa by an immigration official - Mr Chen turned to the US.

Using intermediaries, he relayed to the US chargé d'affaires in Canberra, Bill Stanton, that he was a senior Chinese diplomat with access to classified intelligence who wanted to defect to the US.

It is understood that the US consul-general in Sydney, Stephen T. Smith, was also involved in dealing with the request.

A US embassy spokeswoman said: "I can confirm that Mr Chen contacted a US mission in Australia about his situation."

The spokeswoman would not comment further, although the US took the approach that this was a matter for Australia to sort out. However, a well-placed source said Mr Stanton - the most senior US representative in Australia - and Mr Smith had had no prior knowledge of Mr Chen's walking out of a Chinese mission, even though Mr Chen's approach to the US occurred six days after the Australian Government first knew.

Australia and the US usually closely share intelligence, and a defection bid would have been a rare "code red" event, in the words of one espionage expert.

There have also been tensions between the US and Australia recently over the Howard Government's new closeness to China, especially after the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, said Australia may not come to Taiwan's aid if China invaded.

The Federal Government has denied that its negative attitude to Mr Chen's asylum bid and offer of intelligence information was linked to its pitch for a free trade deal and multibillion-dollar gas contract with the emerging economic power.

However, the Australian National University's Professor Hugh White said: "China has made it clear consistently that the development of an economic relationship is dependent on Australia being sympathetic to China's concerns on political and security issues."

Ms Fu said: "China has moved on. It's not the 1970s. China's not behind a bamboo curtain. I don't see there is any reason he could face jail because there is no civil crime in his behaviour … I don't know why he would be in jail."


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