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Thursday, June 09, 2005

MSNBC > China defector says would rather die than go home

China defector says would rather die than go homeChina defector says would rather die than go home
By Michelle Nichols
CANBERRA, June 8 — A Chinese diplomat pleading for political asylum in Australia has said he would rather die than go home, as Prime Minister John Howard tried on Thursday to calm concerns the asylum bid may harm Sino-Australian relations.
Howard said an application for political asylum by Chen Yonglin, a 37-year-old political affairs consul at China's Sydney consulate, would not be influenced by Australia's booming trade and economic ties with China.
"Let me simply say that, just as in relation to the U.S., we have steadfastly refused to mix trade with politics and strategy and national security. So it is in relation to China, and I'm sure that our Chinese friends will know that," he told a business lunch in Sydney.
China, which is Australia's third-largest trading partner with annual trade worth A$28.9 billion ($22.7 billion), is in talks with Canberra on a free trade deal and a separate pact to import Australian uranium.
In a letter to Australia's Immigration Department last month and released by the minority Australian Greens party on Thursday, Chen said his role at China's Sydney consulate persecuting Falun Gong practitioners had given him nightmares.
Falun Gong is an amalgam of religions, meditation and exercises that the Chinese government considers a dangerous cult.
"My spirit is severely distressed for my sin at working for the unjustified authority in a somewhat evil way and my hair turns white quickly in the last four years for frequent nightmares," Chen wrote.
Chen described Falun Gong as a cult with vulnerable and innocent members and said he feared being forced to return home to continue monitoring Falun Gong affairs.
"I would rather die than be forced to do so ... I have no choice but to seek asylum in Australia," he wrote.
China has dismissed Chen's claims about a Chinese spy network and his fears that he could be kidnapped by spies and sent home for helping pro-democracy activists.
But Australia's opposition Labor called on the government to give protection to Chen, and a second Chinese man, Hao Fengjun, who is also seeking political asylum.
Hao, who said he worked for China's security service, known as 610, has backed claims by Chen that Beijing has up to 1,000 spies operating across Australia.
The Immigration Department has said it is examining Chen's application for a protection visa, which is granted to asylum seekers under the U.N. Refugees Convention.
Howard said about 1,000 Chinese apply for protection visas from the Immigration Department in Australia each year.
Chen has also applied for a rare "territorial asylum visa" from Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, but Downer has discouraged the application for political asylum, urging Chen to seek a protection via an immigration visa.
But Greens party leader Bob Brown said the Australian government was just trying not to offend China.
"I have no doubt ... (the government) feels it will be less of an affront to China if some other form of visa is offered," Brown told Australian radio.
Brown said the handling of the Chinese diplomat was also a security bungle as he had not been interviewed by Australian security agencies.
"If Mr Howard couldn't act on behalf of this Chinese diplomat, why hasn't he acted on behalf of this nation?" Brown said. "It is extraordinary that (intelligence agencies) ... haven't been in contact with this man."
Chen, who is in hiding with his wife and 6-year-old daughter, made his political asylum bid public on Saturday when he spoke at a Sydney rally to mark the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.
The second Chinese man, Hao, told Australian television that he had worked for China's security service in the northern port city of Tianjin. He said he travelled to Australia as a tourist in February and then applied for asylum.
An immigration department spokeswoman would not confirm or deny Hao's application.


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