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Second defector backs spy claims

Fugitive Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin shows his consular ID card at a rally in Sydney last Saturday.
Special report: Eye on China
Beijing (China)

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- A second Chinese defector has reinforced claims by fugitive diplomat Chen Yonglin that China is running a network of spies and paid informers in Australia.

The new claims were broadcast on Australian television on Tuesday night by a man who identified himself as Hao Fengjun. He said he was once part of China's internal security apparatus.

Chen, consul for political affairs at the consulate-general in Sydney, has been on the run since he left his post on May 26 and sought political asylum from the Australian government for himself, his wife Jin Ping and their six-year-old daughter Chen Fangrong.

Chen, 37, claims China has a network of 1,000 spies and informers in Australia and has kidnapped dissidents.

China has dismissed Chen's claims as fabrications and says Chen just wants to stay in Australia.

But in an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corp. television on Tuesday night, the man who identified himself as Hao Fengjun said he believed Chen's claim because of his own experience.

Speaking through an interpreter and with his face shadowed, Hao said he worked in the police office of the Security Bureau in China, but had applied for political asylum when he came to Australia as a tourist in February. He is on a bridging visa while he awaits the outcome of his application.

Hao said China sent out businessmen and students to overseas countries as spies, and also had spies under diplomatic cover in its missions abroad.

"They also infiltrate the Falun Gong and other dissident groups," he told the ABC's Lateline program.

A Chinese democracy organizer in Sydney says Chen is still in fear of his life, despite reassurances by China's ambassador in Australia.

Chin Jin, head of the Federation for a Democratic China in Australia, told CNN on Tuesday that Chen feared he faced execution.

Chin said Chen's attempted defection was a "big political accident" for Ambassador Fu Ying that could cost the Canberra-based diplomat her job.

Chen says it is inevitable he will be "punished severely" by the Chinese government for speaking out.

But Ambassador Fu said Chen had no reason to be afraid that China would punish him if he returned home.

Fu said Chen just wanted to stay on in Australia and joked about his claim that China had a spy network in the country.

At a book launch in Canberra on Monday, Fu said she was surprised she had time to attend the event, given that she was "supposed to be busy running a spy network", The Australian newspaper reported.

Chen's case comes at a delicate time for the Australian government, which is seeking to negotiate a free trade agreement with China and has hosted numerous high-level Chinese dignitaries recently.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard visited China in April, and last month hosted a visit by Wu Bangguo, chairman off the National People's Congress, to kick-start the trade negotiations.

Howard's political opponents are accusing his government of putting commercial interests ahead of human rights in its handling of Chen's asylum bid.

Australian minority party The Greens has arranged for legal advice for Chen, according to Greens leader Senator Bob Brown.

Brown said on Monday that Chen should have been given immediate assistance by the Australian government 12 days earlier, but instead had been left with "no support."

Brown said it was disgraceful that instead of helping Chen, the government had been consulting with the Chinese government.

In a letter to the Australian Immigration Department dated May 25, Chen said his work in Australia included monitoring the activities of dissident Chinese groups, including Falun Gong practitioners and supporters of Tibet, Taiwan and Uighur separatists in western China.

Chen made his claims in an address to a pro-democracy rally in Sydney on Saturday marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing on June 4, 1989.

The Chinese embassy says Chen's accusations are "fabricated" and that he simply wants to live in Australia rather than returning to Beijing at the end of his four-year posting.

An embassy statement issued on Sunday night said: "To achieve the aim of staying in Australia, Chen Yonglin fabricated stories which are unfounded and purely fictitious."

A spokesperson for Australia's immigration department told CNN on Monday that Chen's visa application was lodged on Friday and would be processed "on its merits" in the normal way.

He said any plea for political asylum by Chen was a matter for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, speaking from India, said on Tuesday that immigration officials were assessing Chen's application for a protection visa and the responsible way was to allow due process to follow its course.

In interviews with Australian newspapers and television, Chen said his initial request for political asylum had been refused within 24 hours by Australian immigration officials, who encouraged him to return to his post at the Chinese consulate.

He said the Australian officials had alerted his superiors, prompting him to flee Sydney last week.

The immigration spokesperson confirmed to CNN that the department had contacted the Chinese consulate to check that Chen was on its staff. But he said that once Chen's visa application was lodged, the immigration department had not passed any information on to the Chinese authorities, in line with its privacy obligations to visa applicants.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported on Tuesday that on May 31, Chen sought to defect to the United States. It quoted a U.S. embassy spokeswoman as confirming that Chen contacted "a U.S. mission in Australia about his situation".

On Saturday, Chen appeared at a Sydney rally to mark the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.

"I feel very unsafe," Chen told the rally, according to The Associated Press. "In 16 years, the Chinese government has done nothing for political reform. People have no political freedom, no human rights."

A Falun Gong spokeswoman, Kay Rubacek, told Australian television she was shocked by Chen's move. She said Chen in the past had taken photographs of peaceful protests outside the consulate in Sydney.

In his May 25 letter to immigration authorities, Chen said his main job in Sydney was monitoring Falun Gong activities.

He said while Falun Gong was a cult, its practitioners were innocent people and a "socially vulnerable group". He had become "severely distressed" over his work and the likelihood that he would have to continue his Falun Gong role back in China. He wrote that he "would rather die" than be forced to do so.

"I have a daughter to raise, and I have no choice but seeking asylum in Australia," he wrote.

Analysts say Chen's case will be a test of how well Australian can balance its growing trade ties with China and its human rights stance.

Australian exports to China have mushroomed in recent years, particularly in the commodities sector, where coal, iron ore and other metals are much in demand to feed China's booming economy. China is now Australia's third largest trade partner, and two-way trade is running at about $23 billion a year.

Last week, The Australian newspaper reported that the country's domestic spy agency ASIO had set up a new counter-espionage unit to boost its surveillance of Chinese and Russian spies looking to steal Australian technology secrets.

The newspaper said government sources believed Chinese agents in Australia now outnumbered Russian agents. It quoted the sources as saying spies used diplomatic cover and also were posing as business people and professionals.

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