The high-ranking Chinese diplomat who defected here two weeks ago only to be rebuffed by the Australian government says he also sought political asylum at the US Embassy and was turned away.
The defector, Chen Yonglin (陳用林), a 37-year-old career diplomat, said on Monday in his first interview with a foreign journalist that he had called the US Embassy in Canberra and followed up with a fax.
"My wife, my 6-year-old daughter and I are now in a desperate status," Chen wrote on June 4 in his faxed appeal to the US Embassy, which he showed to the New York Times.
"I have no choice but seeking the only hope of political asylum of the United States," he wrote in imperfect English. He gave his mobile phone number.
Later that day, Chen said in the interview, he received a call from a US Embassy official, whose name he could not recall, who told him there was nothing the US could do for him.
Why Chen was dismissed without even an interview is not clear. Generally, in the past, defectors from communist countries -- whether athletes, dancers or diplomats -- have been protected and assisted with their asylum claims.
A spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Canberra declined to comment on Chen's case.
Since he walked out of the Chinese Consulate here on May 26, Chen has created a political storm in Australia, with both conservatives and liberals criticizing the government for turning away a diplomat who has suggested that he has valuable intelligence to offer and who has approached the West as a vocal critic of China's human rights record and lack of democracy.
Some politicians and commentators say that Australia had put economic interests -- China is a major buyer of Australia's natural resources -- ahead of concerns about human rights. Others have been skeptical of Chen's intelligence claims, saying that he is overstating them to avoid being sent home.
But Chen's credentials have not been challenged, and few doubt that he would be punished if he returned to China. He held the title of a political first secretary and says his principal duties were to spy on the spiritual group Falun Gong and pro-democracy activists.
Since his case has come to light here, Chen and his wife, Jin Ping, and their daughter, Fang Rong, have lived in virtual hiding and are now applying to remain in Australia under what is called a "protective visa."
Jin, also present during the interview, said she had supported her husband's decision to defect, which the couple described as the result of years of growing disillusionment with the Chinese authorities.
Each had been a student activist in the late 1980s, he at university in Beijing, she while studying law in Shanghai. They were not married at the time. After the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989, they were sent separately for "re-education," they said.
Jin said she was assigned to work in a family planning program in a rural area. One woman she tended to was eight months pregnant with her second child when forced into a hospital for an abortion, she said. The woman escaped, was caught and brought back, an operation was performed, and a baby boy, born alive, was then killed by the doctors, she said.
The couple were accompanied during the interview by Jennifer Zeng, who took notes and acted as an interpreter when the couple needed help with their English. Zeng is a Falun Gong practitioner and the author of Witnessing History: One Woman's Fight for Freedom and Falun Gong.