A Chinese diplomat's bid for asylum in Australia is being closely watched in Taiwan.
If Canberra grants asylum to Chen Yonglin (
"Australia is very concerned about its ties with China. I don't think Australia will risk its ties with Beijing by granting asylum to Chen. But it may let him go to a third country," said Alexander Huang (黃介正), a China expert at Tamkang University.
Since Cold War days, several Western nations have granted asylum to Chinese diplomats, triggering strong protests and retaliation from Beijing.
Chen, 37, claimed his job was to spy on Chinese dissidents, Tibetan exiles and Taiwanese in Australia and said he was defecting because he could no longer support Beijing's persecution of dissidents.
He claims that China has 1,000 agents working in Australia, where they are kidnapping Chinese dissidents and forcibly repatriating them to China.
Chinese Ambassador to Australia Fu Ying (
She said Chen fabricated the story so that he can stay in Australia as his four-year posting is coming to an end.
Chen's claim that he will face persecution if he returns to China is valid, according to a former Chinese official who defected to the US in 1989 and who now lives in Taiwan.
"Chen Yonglin's life would certainly be in danger because China is not ruled by law and it can drum up any charge against Chen," Ruan Ming (阮明), former secretary to late Chinese Communist Party secretary-general Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦), said during phone conversation.
Ruan fled China following the Tiananmen Square Massacre and is now serving as an adviser for the think tank Taiwan Research Institute.
If Chen is sent back to China he is likely to face treason charges, which carries a maximum life sentence.
Australia's handling of Chen's asylum bid is "shameful", according to Su Yung-chin (蘇永欽), professor of law at National Chengchi University.
"According to international law, all countries should provide assistance to asylum seekers on humanitarian grounds. What Australia has done is not only improper, but also shameful," he said.
Taiwan welcomed Chinese defectors in the Cold War days, but stopped doing so in the late 1980s as cross-strait tensions thawed.
Since 1990, Taiwan has repatriated 12 Chinese plane hijackers to China and rejected the asylum requests from several Chinese pro-democracy activists, but helped them seek asylum in a third country.
A third country may be Chen's best hope, as Canberra weighs granting him political asylum and its diplomatic ties with China.