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Government to consider Chen case 'on merits' -

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Government to consider Chen case 'on merits'

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

KERRY O'BRIEN: Welcome to the program. Tonight we start with a question: is Chinese dissent Chen
Yonglin the most important defector in 40 years? And if so, why does the Australian Government
continue to insist he'll be dealt with like any other asylum seeker? Some intelligence analysts
believe the information Chen is offering should be enough in itself to guarantee him asylum. Others
say he's put himself in danger and that that should be reason enough for him not to be forced to go
back to China. But the government says it won't be rushed. Could the size and importance of China's
economy have anything to do with it? "No", says the government; "yes", say others. Political editor
Michael Brissenden reports.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: On June 4, 1989, the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square. The democracy movement
was crushed. In Australia, a tearful Prime Minister opened the door and offered asylum to thousands
of Chinese students.

BOB HAWKE, FORMER PRIME MINISTER: Incredibly, despite the horrors and the risks, we have witnessed
acts of indescribable bravery on our television screens.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Exactly 16 years later, June 4, 2005, and Chen Yonglin walks into the public
glare after trying to defect a week earlier from his position at the Chinese Consulate in Sydney.
He says he can no longer tolerate his country's continued persecution of dissidents. His is a
singular democratic protest. But this is a different world. Chen's bid for political asylum has
been rejected. Australia's relationship with China has moved from tears to free trade, and the
numbers, it seems, are not on his side.

ALAN OXLEY, FORMER AUSTRALIAN TRADE AMBASSADOR: I should think that the people sitting inside
government are squirming in their seats right now. We've just announced that negotiations for the
free trade agreement will begin. China, like any other great power, will trade in connect issues.
Wouldn't be any different if we had a similar problems with the United States or Indonesia. They
will be, I think, saying: "You want a good relationship with us, don't cause us unnecessary
problems.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: China is the engine room of the world's economy. This is China's century and we
pant to be part of it. Australia's economic future is more closely dependent on China than ever.
It's a sophisticated relationship. A free trade deal is now being formally discussed. The Prime
Minister makes frequent visits to Beijing - he was there just last April. Robert Hill, the Defence
Minister, is in the Chinese capital today. It's a popular and important destination for Australian
government ministers. But is this why we seem to be tiptoeing around what some at least believe is
the most significant diplomatic defection of the past 40 years?

BRIAN TOOHEY, 'AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW': You must know that when a senior official from a
consulate wants to defect, you just don't say in effect bugger off and go back to China. You at
least take seriously - you take a bit of time, you don't within 24 hours say that you can't have
political asylum. You would say this could be very important, it could be very interesting. Let's
see if we can talk to this person. Surely the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation would
like to spend many, many hours with him.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Journalist Brian Toohey is a veteran spook watcher. He says Chen Yonglin's
defection should be seen as a golden opportunity.

BRIAN TOOHEY: Now that someone's offering them vast amounts of information on a plate for free, you
think they'd grab it with both hands. If they don't, there is something wrong with the way ASIO is
doing its job. If they want our natural gas, they will buy it. If they want a free trade agreement
with us, they will go ahead. They are in an invidious position now, if they look like they're
punishing Australia because we give this man protection.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And possible information bonanza aside, others also believe the Government
should be acting to protect someone who's clearly put themselves in great danger.

SENATOR BOB BROWN, GREENS LEADER: The Chinese ambassador Madame Fu has said that there will be
sweet reason brought to bear if Mr Chen's repatriated. Look, that is hogwash. There are 250,000
people in re-education camps in China at the moment according to the US State Department. This is a
police state. It will treat very harshly with Mr Chen. He will get a very, very long jail sentence,
possibly be subject to torture, may be executed if returned to China.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Those who know first hand agree. HuJian was one of those who came to Australia
after Tiananmen. As such he has first-hand knowledge of the determination of the Chinese
authorities to stamp out dissents. China may have transformed economically in the past few years
but swapping Mao suits for business suits, he says, hasn't changed everything.

HUJIAN, DISSIDENT: If you are a dissident and you really want to speak out your opinions in the
cause and cause some impact to a society, then it will be definitely punished. I think his position
is very difficult. If he was deported back to China, his life is in danger, I think.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The message from the Australian Government, though, is clear: procedure will
not be overturned for Mr Chen. And our trade relationship will have no influence on the outcome of
his case.

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER: I don't think these things should be decided on economic grounds. I
think they should be decided very squarely on the grounds that he's claimed, whether or not he has
a legitimate ground to be considered a refugee, I think that's the ground on which these things
should be decided, and I have no doubt that they will be deseeded on those grounds.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But the Opposition says procedure has already been breached, and that
exceptions have already been made. The problem is they just don't know precisely what's been done
and why. Shadow Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd says he asked for a briefing on the Chen matter three
days ago, and he says he's still heard nothing.

KEVIN RUDD, SHADOW FOREIGN MINISTER: I am deeply concerned about the fact that if government wants
these matters handled on a bipartisan basis then why in heaven do they want to prevent the
Opposition from being briefed on the details of this case? Perhaps they are embarrassed about some
of the details concerning this case. I just don't know. Second point I'd make is this: what we know
from Senator Vanstone, the Immigration Minister, is that Mr Downer has already rejected an
application for territorial asylum.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The one common thread here is that everyone agrees this is a difficult dilemma
that's come at a delicate time.

ALAN OXLEY: If we give this man asylum I should think the Chinese would be quite displeased. And I
think we'll just have to manage it.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Tiananmen Square is a fading memory and whether what he says is true or not,
Chen Yonlin is not a democracy movement. Whatever information he has, he is just one defector. It
must seem a lonely place to be right now but he more than most would also know that these days
China's human rights record is more often than not obscured by the smog of its economic
development.