Australian newspapers yesterday revealed that James Sun, an Australian citizen, has been in jail in China for five years after being arrested by Chinese authorities on suspicion of spying for Taiwan.
After serving two years on death row, Sun is now serving a life sentence at Beijing Prison No. 2 in what the Sydney Morning Herald described as “harsh conditions.”
Sun’s wife, who contacted the media this week, said the Australian government had known of her husband’s detention since 2006, but had never made the case public. She was four months pregnant when her husband was convicted of spying for Taiwan, she says.
Reports say that in January 2006, Sun, who worked for an agency recruiting foreign students to Australia, went to China to visit his mother. He was apprehended by state security officials as he was heading out to dinner with friends from his days in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
Six days after Sun’s family reported him missing, officials at the Australian embassy in Beijing located Sun at a detention facility operated by the Chinese Ministry of State Security. Chinese authorities accused Sun of “seducing” Yang Delong, a former colleague who was still serving in the air force, into copying more than 1,000 classified documents and passing them on to Taiwanese intelligence, the Herald reported.
Sun’s conviction appears to have relied on his alleged confession and that of Yang. Officials from the Australian embassy were not allowed to attend the trial — which began after Sun had already been detained for 22 months — as it involved matters of state security. Sun also allegedly turned down his court-approved lawyer.
However, embassy officials were allowed to attend the verdict hearing in September 2007 and consular officials have been in constant contact with Sun in prison.
Sun’s wife denies her husband was a spy for Taiwan.
“He’s just a normal person. He’s never been to Taiwan and he doesn’t know anyone from Taiwan,” she told media.
Requests for comment on the case by the Taipei Times yesterday were turned down by the Presidential Office.
The Herald speculated that if Sun’s conviction was based on actual intelligence, this could show that Taiwanese intelligence was at some point recruiting agents from within the Australian Chinese community and that Chinese intelligence were in turn monitoring the Chinese community in Australia.
Though it has not been confirmed that Taiwan was recruiting agents in Australia during former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) tenure — the period during which Sun would ostensibly have been approached — under president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) Taiwanese intelligence agencies have been ordered to draw down intelligence operations in China.
Sun’s wife, who has launched a letter campaign over her husband’s detention, now hopes the Australian government will pass enabling legislation on the repatriation of prisoners with China, which was signed between the two countries in 2007. Australian authorities say no time frame has been set for the enactment of the law.
The Australian Associated Press (AAP) quoted a spokesman for the Australian attorney general as saying the government was “working to implement the treaty as soon as possible.”
However, whether Beijing would agree to repatriate Sun after the legislation is implemented, and, if so, when this would occur, remains uncertain.