Dispatches From the Moderate Left

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Picture of the Week

Meet Madam Fu, Chinese ambassador to Australia:

Fu is the Chinese face of the current spy/asylum scandal brewing. For those who aren't plugged into Australian news, a Chinese diplomat in Australia, Chen Yonglin, has attempted to defect to Australia saying he has information on 1000 Chinese spies in the country. He says he was involved in monitoring Chinese political dissidents and Falun Gong members in Australia and some of them were kidnapped by the Chinese government and taken back to China. Chen says his application for political asylum was rejected by the government and there is talk that the government is being cautious so as not to affect trade relations with China. Madam Fu and the Chinese government, of course, denies these allegations but a second defector is apparently backing the claims up.

As an aside, I'm on the same page as Andrew Bolt on this one. Wow.


  • Chen has clarified that his '1000 spy' figure includes informants, which makes it quite plausible.

    the second guy, who apparently has held onto data from his police days in Tianjin, has claimed that the PRC government works through Chinese business associations and students in Australia, which is also highly plausible

    on lateline tonight Philip Ruddock said that he's actually met (on a visit to China) the Chinese vice-mayor whose son was allegedly kidnapped in Aus to force the father's return to China

    I hate to look like I'm pushing the PRC's barrow all the time, but a few points -

    China's defence spending counts for less than 1.5% of the world total. The US counts for 35%, Japan comes second at about 5%. China is not a military threat to anyone living outside Taiwan.

    Re the anti-J protests there's a lot of evidence that the authorities did not organise them and did in fact try to tamp them down. Westerners underestimate the depth of anger in China towards Japan - it's not just 1937 onwards but the whole modern history of the two countries (some would say it goes back to 1592). We have to separate the issues of China's present behaviour and Japan's culpability for past crimes.
    J's conduct is equivalent to Holocaust denial - for their PM to visit Yasukuni is like the German chancellor making a pilgrimage to Nuremberg, no hyperbole. You would think that Australians and Americans would have a problem with it too, but I suppose memories die easier when they're confined to veterans of Changi and the Burma railroad. Chinese people assume that the west's double standard re WW2 atrocities is just racism - because it happened to Asians, it doesn't count as much.

    By Blogger John Lee, at 2:24 AM  

  • I saw that about the figure, and I agree it seems much more plusible when you realise it includes informants.

    But the basic point here isn't whether or not China poses a military threat to the world, it's how far it will go in its abuses of human rights. It clearly persecutes Falun Gong, dissidents, free tibet etc. activists on the mainland, which is a tradgedy, but that it potentially extends its anti-subversive actions to Australia is an outrage. We're a free country and even if the stories of kidnappings are wrong, that they even monitor and spy on dissidents here is outrageous (for want of another word).

    That the government is reluctant to grant asylum what seems to be a clear case of very likely political persecution is also a scandal...

    By Blogger Jeremy, at 7:51 AM  

  • the last two points were in response to the Bolt article, they weren't meant to distract from the issue of Chen Yonglin

    presumably the problem for Chen's DIMIA application is that the veracity of his claims goes towards his grounds for refugee status - it's going to be hard to show the requisite threat of persecution unless he is in fact compromising state secrets. as of yesterday however noone from ASIO or the AFP had approached Chen to ask for more info, though Ruddock assured us on lateline that it would be 'naive' to think they weren't looking into the matter (I guess Chen's expected to wait patiently while they round up all 1000).

    state-sponsored kidnapping on foreign soil is a definite no-no - look at how much hot water the Israelis got in over Eichmann, which was a meritorious case if there ever was one. But however reprehensible China's choice of 'enemies of the state' may be, I don't think you can expect a country not to monitor defined political threats overseas - all govts do it. the odd western desterter to the Soviet bloc during the COld War could be expected to be tailed for life, particularly if he came from the diplomatic or espionage services.

    from a national interest viewpoint though, military-industrial espionage is far more significant than the odd political kidnapping.
    Chinese espionage was a big issue in the US a few years ago, specifically with re to weapons technology
    I can't help feeling that's the real reason for all this Chinese activity down here - after all JSF and AEGIS components are going to be made in this country over the next few years, the very sort of technology China needs to challenge US naval supremacy in the western Pacific

    By Blogger John Lee, at 12:16 PM  

  • Absolutely. This would be hand-in-glove with the massive military buildup, particularly in amphibious assault craft, that China is pursuing at break-neck pace.

    I was surprised that this slipped relatively unnoticed in the media, but at least the SMH covered it here (http://www.smh.com.au/news/World/China-denies-military-buildup-means-war/2005/03/06/1110044260726.html).

    Another interesting article with a more comprehensive look at Chinese naval capabilities is here (http://www.americanthinker.com/articles.php?article_id=4405).

    I think Chinese spending may very well be a threat to the SE Asian rim, considering the massive investment in small pacific island nations and their militaries. It's all very subtle diplomacy, but producing formiddable results.

    Another really good site to keep track of repressive measures within China (a must see for anyone affiliated with the labour movement) is the China Labour Bulletin (http://www.china-labour.org.hk/iso/).

    By Blogger Freeworldnik, at 9:57 PM  

  • a correction to my first post on this thread, which mistakenly cited 2001 figures - China's actual (as opposed to officially disclosed) military spending is now distant second to the US
    incidentally the US now accounts for nearly half world military spending, and I don't know if those figures include the new tactical nukes whose development Bush squeezed in under the energy budget

    the recent Chinese buildup is probably being driven by the perception that the 'Taiwan Problem' is coming to a head. the argument is that several factors - Chen Shui-Bian's presidential term running out, Bush's term running out, US committed in Iraq and needs PRC help over NKorea, Taiwan falling permanently behind PRC in the arms race - are combining to make it a 'now or never' situation for Taiwan's independence movement.
    Chen's already committed Taiwan to a table for constitutional reform, which Taiwan's political system actually needs but which Beijing regards as a strategy for presenting China with a fait accompli.

    By Blogger John Lee, at 11:30 PM  

  • hi guys, let's face the political reality. Every country has its intelligent organisation, no exception to China. I guess there would be a few hundred of Australia ASIO memebers working hard in China as well. So please don't make a fuss out of this incident and send Chen back to its 'motherland'

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:28 AM  

  • @Anon and John
    I think the problem here is exactly China's "choice of enemies of the state". I heard an interview with a Falun Gong woman on the radio yesterday and she said she had fled China to escape persecution for her beliefs and had felt safe here. Then it was revealed in all this that she has a personal file on her by the Chinese intillegence and she has been stalked by agents and she just said that that unshakable feeling of persecution had come back.

    Australia has a soverign right to stop this sort of thing happening if it so chooses and I think it absolutely should. If china were monitoring a sect of violent terrorists planning on killing masses of civilians, then, sure, let them spy on them. Heck, we'd probably help them. But their choice of enemies is a serious issue. We rightly condemn them for persecuting them in China, we shouldn't allow them to stalk, harrass and spy on them here, especially if they're then going to face consequences for it when/if they go back home.

    As for Chen himself, I think there's a good chance that he would face some serious consequences if he went back home and we should grant him asylum for this reason. Persecution for political beliefs - that's what political asylum is all about and there seems to be a good case that it should be granted here.

    By Blogger Jeremy, at 11:41 AM  

  • this is unfolding like a Frederick Forsyth novel. they had to send out the media invites to Hao Fengjun's interview by fax for fear the phone lines were tapped; the journalists had to give a secret password to get into the (undisclosed) location in Melbourne Chinatown

    last night Tony Jones interviwed the head of Falungong's intl legal team (who happens to be a former ACT A-G) re a third defector from China's public security services. this guy was given a safe house when he got to Australia but was apparently tracked down by PRC agents (his house was ransacked and the materials he'd brought from China stolen) merely by lodging an application for refugee status - some of the photo evidence he lodged with DIMIA disappeared unaccountably.

    obviously our security services have to respond to this sort of criminal activity and undermining of our government processes. But China’s persecution of FLG is not a simple matter of freedom of belief. The Chinese state no longer persecutes every heterodox religious/spiritual group, it focuses on those that openly challenge the Party’s authority and have demonstrated a capacity for mass mobilisation. Falungong did both in 1999 when it held a 10,000 strong protest in Beijing and demanded a meeting with the Premier and retraction of an article in an official publication criticizing FLG – that’s what triggered the crackdown and the formation of the 6-10 office. FLG has a hierarchical cell structure and significant resources that it deploys worldwide to denounce the legitimacy of CCP rule. For the Australian government to specifically protect it as an organisation would be to endorse challenges to the authority of a sovereign state, which I doubt is an effective way to promote human rights reform. Indonesia spies on supporters of the Free Aceh and Free Papua movements in this country – should our government be taking sides on those issues too?

    I’d again suggest that as a matter of priorities counterespionage should be focused on protecting our defence technology and military facilities – harassment of Falungong practitioners can be left to the AFP. Interestingly last year ASIO already requested funding for a new counterespionage unit (http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,15483410-2,00.html) which might suggest that Chen’s news is such news to them after all

    On another note, our broadsheet papers still can't spell one-syllable Chinese names right ('Hoa' Fengjun? sounds Vietnamese), and Chen Yonglin now has his own wikipedia entry

    By Blogger John Lee, at 9:12 PM  

  • John, the obvious problem with saying we should allow the PRC to persecute every group which threatens the stability of the regime is that china lives under a freaking autocracy. It's not like those with grievances against the regime can vote it out, they HAVE to threaten the entire system.

    I don't know enough about falun gong to speak authoritatively about them. From what I've read they're a largely peaceful if cultish bunch which gets persecuted in fairly bad and extensive ways for their beliefs.

    I do know that they persecute christians that organise outside the official religions:

    "A remarkable set of secret documents uncovered by Freedom House in 2002 reveals that the Chinese authorities, across twenty-two provinces, tortured young evangelical girls by sticking electric rods in their vaginas and burning their breasts, killed more than one hundred evangelicals, and jailed some twenty thousand believers. One of the "crimes" of which the authorities accused detained evangelicals was "praying for world peace."

    Defend these actions if you will by saying evangelical christians may threaten the stability of the state - this sort of thing is never and can never be justified in my mind. I'm also positive that for every documented case of abuse by the regime there's many, many more that don't get heard of thanks to their tight controls on information flows and the chilling effect supressing free speech has on the willingness of the population to speak out.

    We should not condone Chinese human rights violations and we should attempt to prevent them furthering their efforts in our country regardless of whether or not we should also stop them trying to steal our military secrets.

    By Blogger Jeremy, at 11:51 AM  

  • I'm not defending human rights abuses in China, and I resent the implication that I do – I have relatives who died in China as a result of CCP policies (or lack of them). Please note also that I didn't advocate a hands-off policy towards the 6-10 operations in Aus, I said that they should be dealt with as a matter of criminal law enforcement. But they shouldn't become a political issue between the two governments. What Bob Brown and crew are demanding is that the Australian government publicly commit to protecting a group that China’s government has defined as a security threat. I’m not aware of any basis in international law (humanitarian or otherwise) for such action and in practical terms it won’t help FLG practitioners in China.

    My family members happen to be evangelical Christians and we have a lot of materials on the persecution of Christians in China, but we don’t support political activism over it because it doesn’t achieve anything. To the contrary it draws state attention to the groups concerned and makes it harder for decent govt officials to shield them using the limited legal means available. Last year I wrote a legal research essay on this subject (state regulation of religion in China) which I'm happy to post on the thread with your permission.

    Many westerners are baffled by what they see as Chinese people’s accommodation or apologia for the PRC regime’s abuses. There’s a psychological theory (see ‘The Geography of Thought’, by Richard Nisbett) that Westerners tend to focus on absolute principles while East Asians look at context. The context here is that foreign pressure will never make the CCP loosen its repressive grip – only internal structural pressure achieves that, and that takes time. Everyone would prefer China to be a liberal democracy, but unfortunately we’ve got the Party and no alternative to it except anarchy and another half-century of disaster for the Chinese people.

    There’s dozens of qigong movements and heterodox religious groups in China that are growing and gaining some private space by avoiding confrontation with the regime. Falungong, like the students in 1989, has poked its finger in the CCP’s eye by crossing the red line of challenging Party authority. If FLG now receives the active protection of a foreign intelligence service, you can be sure it will only get extra treatment back home.

    By Blogger John Lee, at 3:48 PM  

  • John, I do apologise, that implication was out line. I know were you broadly stand on these issues. I was just trying to bring some context back into this.

    That's interesting what you said about the western/eastern perspective on these things. Certainly something to think about. I think I'm something of an idealist with foreign affairs (see my posts on Uzbek) which may be nieve but I think a strong, global, commitment to rewarding protection of human rights and 'disciplining' infractions of them can go a long way.

    I appreciate your comments and hope you keep dropping them around :)

    By Blogger Jeremy, at 8:39 AM  

  • no offence taken, none given ;)

    yesterday's Weekend Australian ran a two-spage spread of extracts from a new biography of Chairman Mao, out this Octcober from the author of Wild Swans. The older book is still banned in China and the new one's gonna be, as it's going a long way towards debunking the lingering view of Mao as somehow cuddlier than Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot. just thought it worth a mention, since until the 1990's western perceptions of the PRC were quite benign, i.e. at the time when the regime was killing most of its alleged 70 million victims (Chang's book)

    the Nisbett book is also worth a look (Baillieu has a copy). I was sceptical till I actually did some of the experiments in it and found myself (unexpectedly) on the Asian side of the great mental divide... it's quite startling stuff

    By Blogger John Lee, at 9:18 PM  

  • Wow, this post got linked from Andrew Bartlett's Blog :)

    By Blogger Jeremy, at 10:21 AM  

  • Bartlett has replied to your post (jeremy) on his blog, as has the administrator of Patriot China (the Canberra-based blog whose posters threatened to bump off Chen Yonglin or dob him in to the consulate if they see him)

    Bartlett's obviously under the impression that I'm a Chinese national or come from a mainland Chinese family, so I'd better clarify that I'm not. My family is Chinese but left four generations ago, we came to Aus from Malaysia. my personal experience of China is limited to a 2-week tour chaperoned by the state travel agency

    By Blogger John Lee, at 6:43 PM  

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