Australian intelligence agents have questioned two Chinese defectors over claims that Beijing operates a network of 1,000 spies across Australia, as a third dissident was expected to go public with similar charges yesterday, the Australian newspaper reported.
Former diplomat Chen Yonglin (
Chen abandoned his post as first secretary at the Chinese consulate-general in Sydney last month while Hao defected in February.
Both men are seeking to be allowed to stay in Australia, claiming their lives would be in danger if forced to return home.
A third defector, Yuan Hongbing (袁紅兵), a writer and former law professor at Beijing University who arrived in Australia last year, was expected to make a public statement yesterday on his own claim for protection.
APPEAL FOR PROTECTION
Yuan was imprisoned for six months in 1994 for his work in support of democracy, the Australian said, and left China on a tour to Australia last year, where he lodged an application for protection.
He is expected to question why it has taken the Australian government almost a year to make a decision in his case.
The government has already been criticized by the opposition and rights groups over its handling of Chen's case, amid concerns that it was being influenced by Australia's growing trade relationship with China.
Chen's initial plea for political asylum was rebuffed, but Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said Monday his application for a protection visa to allow him and his family to stay in the country was being treated as a priority.
Chen says he fears persecution if he is returned to Beijing because of the assistance he has given to Chinese dissidents, including members of the Falun Gong meditation group that is banned in China, in Australia.
Chen, who is living in hiding, on Monday called on other Chinese to defect.
"My conscience pushed me to leave the Chinese communist regime and free myself from the evil control of the Chinese Communist Party," Chen wrote in a letter which was read out at a rally in Sydney.
`WALK OUT OF THE SHADOWS'
"Now it's the time to smash and break the chains holding your body and soul and embrace a life of freedom, as I did walking out of shadows into a new life, no matter how difficult it is," Chen wrote.
The Chinese government branded the Falun Gung an evil cult after 10,000 members surrounded the leadership's Beijing compound in a surprise dawn protest in 1999.
Fearing that the spiritual movement could present an organized challenge to its authority, the Communist Party has cracked down on Falun Gong over the past few years.
Greens party chief Bob Brown, who has helped Chen formally apply for political asylum, last week accused the Australian government of putting security at risk because ASIO had not yet contacted Chen.
China, which is Australia's third-largest trading partner with annual trade worth A$28.9 billion (US$22.7 billion), is in talks with Canberra on a free-trade deal and a separate pact to import Australian uranium.
Australia and China have said the diplomat's asylum bid would not harm relations.