06/20/2005, 00.00
CHINA - AUSTRALIA
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Chinese spies asking for asylum spark a crisis in Beijing-Canberra relations

 

Canberra (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The request for political asylum from a Chinese diplomat and a former policeman of the Tianjin secret services is testing the Australian government severely, as it worries about saving trade links with the People's Republic.

Thirty-seven-year-old Chen Yonglin, first secretary of the Chinese consulate in Canberra (see photo) disappeared on 26 May and asked for political asylum in Australia. He said he is against his government's repressive policies against democratic dissidents and members of the Falun Gong movement. He also fears he will be persecuted if he returns to China. In his asylum request, Chen said China has at least 1000 spies of the secret service who control all dissident and Falun Gong groups.

Some days later, a former policeman of the Chinese secret services, 32-year-old Hao Fengjun also made a request for political asylum in Australia, confirming Chen's claims about the presence of 1000 Chinese spies on Australian soil.

Hao confirmed that "Chinese spies are not only in the consulate and the embassy but also in businesses and overseas Chinese organisations". The main work of such spies is to "follow and kidnap" dissidents, however they also gather military and trade information. Hao was part of the so-called "Office 610", set up by Politburo member, Luo Gan, to persecute members of the Falun Gong movement. It was later extended to another 14 religious groups and 14 "qigong" groups.

According to Hao, every year, the Beijing and Shanghai secret services spend up to 14 million yen (1.4 million Euros) to sustain their espionage activities abroad.

The request for political asylum and the fugitives' revelations have placed trade links between Australia and China at risk.

Trade between Australia and China is growing in a prodigious way. In 2002, Canberra signed a substantial agreement for provision of gas to Beijing (to supply from 2005). In 2003, China replaced the US as Australia's second trading partner. The volume of trade is estimated at 21.1 billion US dollars. In April, the two nations even decided to negotiate an agreement to set up a free-trade zone which could boost Australia's gross domestic product by up to 18 billion US dollars. Further, an agreement was signed for the importation of Australian uranium to China.

Given the large volume of trade, Canberra is putting off its decision on granting asylum to Chen and Hao. In recent weeks, the government came under fire because it turned to the Chinese consulate for news of Chen, putting his safety at risk.

Beijing has described off the information given by Chen and Hao as "artistically invented lies". Spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Liu Jianchao, also added, in a veiled threat, that "Sino-Australian relations should not be affected by these two incidents and by these two types of people".

The fate of Chen and Yao received unexpected support from Falun Gong groups in Australia. The Falun Gong movement's spokeswoman Kay Rubacek says the group knew Chen because when they organised demonstrations outside the Chinese Consulate, Chen "would take photographs of us for whatever purposes that the Chinese consulate needed them".

On 13 June last, Chen Yonglin expressed his gratitude to the Falun Gong in Australia.

In a written letter, he said: "My conscience pushed me to leave the Chinese Communist regime. You support is valuable, and it gives me more strength and courage. I have been struggling for freedom for years. My action demonstrates the ruling CCP is unable to control the conscience of the people of China."

In an interview with ABC television, he explained why he decided to escape with his wife and their six-year-old child: "I lost all hope in the communist party", he said. "I love my country, but I hate the Communist party for what it has done to my family and my country."

Yesterday, Mark Vaile, Trade Minister, said Australia and China would keep human rights and economic arguments separate. "We have a human rights dialogue with China and we have our economic relationship that we're working on, and we keep those separate," Mr Vaile said. "And certainly, we're not selling out our views on human rights in the interests of getting a better economic deal."

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