Chinese diplomat in hiding

Chen Yonglin, 37, says he fears for his life after defecting from the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney 10 days ago.

China’s ambassador to Australia has denied Mr Chen’s claims that more than 1,000 Chinese spies are in Australia, with Chinese people being kidnapped and returned to Australia, calling them “quite wild stories”.

Ambassador Fu Ying said he would be fairly treated if he returned to China.

Mr Chen, who made the claims at a rally in Sydney on Saturday, was first secretary at the Chinese consulate-general in Sydney before resigning late last month.

Immediately afterwards Mr Chen disappeared with his wife and six-year-old daughter.

He has applied to Australia for political asylum, saying he can no longer stand by while his country represses democracy activists and members of the Falun Gong movement.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, he accused Australian immigration officials of immediately informing Chinese officials of his decision to seek political asylum and of immediately rejecting his request.

He said Australian authorities turned him down 11 days ago within 24 hours of making the application, and also repeatedly urged him to return to the Chinese consulate in Sydney.

He also said they repeatedly urged him to return to the Chinese consulate despite his pleas that he was in grave danger.

The Chinese mission has denied his claims, saying Mr Chen was making the stories up because he was due to return home after four years in Australia and wanted to stay.

The Chinese ambassador said Mr Chen has little to fear in China, saying there is not reason for Beijing to want to punish him.

“China is not a country behind a bamboo curtain anymore, it is a normal friendly country like any country in the world,” said Ms Fu.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said Mr Chen would not receive special treatment and his application for political asylum would be considered on its merits.

She said his claim is still being assessed.

Mr Chen’s defection attempt is the most high-profile since the case of Soviet KGB agent Vladimir Petrov in 1954.

It comes at a delicate time for Australia, which has recently begun formal talks with China on a free trade agreement, and as Australia seeks new contracts to sell natural gas to China.

The Australian Workers Union (AWU) questioned whether that is a factor in the government’s reaction to the incident.

“I think it’s capitalism which is intruding on the treatment of Mr Chen,” AWU national secretary Bill Shorten told the Ten Network.

Canberra said the Immigration Department would weigh up whether Mr Chen would face persecution if he returned to China when assessing his claim for a protection visa.

Immigration lawyer David Manne said Foreign Minister Alexander Downer could intervene.

“There’s a very rare visa under the migration legislation called a territorial asylum visa, it’s commonly known as political asylum, and it’s generally by the minister, usually in fact by the foreign minister,” Mr Manne told ABC radio.

The Australian head of the Federation for a Democratic China, Chin Jin, said Mr Chen was feeling a little safer since he had exposed himself to the media.

“After his media public exposure and a lot of media coverage and being with us, he feels a bit safer,” he told the ABC.

Ms Fu said she does not think the incident will damage relations between the countries.

“I think that our relationship is strong enough to continue our understanding of each other,” she said.