incident at the Opera House
The mainstream press has ignored the link between the
Chen Yonglin defection and the visit to Australia of top Chinese politician,
12 June 2005
evening of Monday 23 May, three days before the Chinese diplomat Chen
Yonglin walked into the Immigration Department building and requested
political asylum, I and hundreds of others witnessed a curious incident
at Sydney Opera House.
and I had gone with a friend to hear a Mahler concert. Arriving an hour
early, so we could eat at a small café under the forecourt, we
were struck by an unusual number of NSW Police dressed in dark blue
jumpsuits and combat boots assembling on the forecourt. They had a sniffer
dog and while we were dining they came past, in pairs, looking among
the potplants for bombs or concealed weapons.
When we left the café and strolled across the forecourt towards
the staircase to the lobby, the police were lined up along the driveway
(which had been closed) surveilling the crowd streaming into the building.
We were already speculating that a VIP was expected, but who could be
so important as to warrant this level of police activity? None of us
could recall having seen or heard any media reports of a state visit
of major importance, and we wondered whether the Prime Minister, John
Howard, would be attending.
We were waiting in the foyer when I became aware of several big, square,
Chinese men mingling in the crowd. They were wearing identical smart
black business suits and had two-way radio wires coming out of their
ears. They wore small red and gold lapel badges depicting the Chinese
flag and had a second badge, a red triangle, pinned beneath it. They
were, I suddenly realized, security guards.
(who hadn't noticed the men) was standing beside a litter bin at the
top of the stairs. As I watched, she crouched down, put her shoulder
bag on the floor and started to rifle through it, looking for something.
The nearest black-suited Chinese man acted swiftly. He strode over,
asked my partner to move and sort of hussled her away from the stairs
in the brook-no-nonsense manner of the well-trained secret service bodyguard.
At that point I looked down the broad staircase and saw a flying wedge
of about 20 black suited men coming up. They were shielding three or
four people, one of whom was vaguely familiar. Like the men staking
out the foyer, the human shields all wore the small Chinese flag and
the red triangle. I noticed that at least two were European. Were they
The flying wedge barged through the crowd in the foyer and went on up
the stairs towards the stalls. When we entered the hall the whole party
was seated in one of the best stalls.
At the end of the concert they formed up into the wedge and escorted
the VIP out. It was then that I noticed that no less than three black
suited men had also been seated at the ends of each of the rows near
The incident was a remarkable demonstration of security muscle and I
expected the visit of the Chinese VIP would make the media the next
day, but there was just a resounding silence. Nothing in the papers
(that I saw), nothing on TV or radio. I had to read the English-language
internet versions of the Chinese press, from China, to find that our
mysterious Mahler fan was Wu Banggou, the Chairman of the National People's
Congress, no less, and that he was in Australia to negotiate a landmark
House incident took place on Monday 23 May. On Thursday 26 May, Yonglin
tried to defect, allegedly with compelling information about the harassment
and even kidnapping of Australian followers of the religious sect, Falun
Gong, and of a huge network of Chinese spies operating in Australia.
His application was indignantly rejected by Immigration officials who
immediately phoned the Chinese Consulate, forcing Chen to flee on foot,
with his family, to Central station where he caught a train to Gosford
and went into hiding.
that Chen was the diplomat, based in the Sydney consulate, whose job
it was to monitor Falun Gong. In the eyes of the Chinese
secret service and Australian security the sect would have been the
only credible threat to Wu Banggous safety while he was in Australia.
And Id hazard a guess that their assessment would have been that
a lightning demonstration against him was the most likely form the threat
would take. Any such incident would have been, at most, an embarrassment,
so why the extraordinary media black-out on the existence of Wu Banggous
is, of course, that our burgeoning trade relationship with the market
Stalinist regime is seen by the Australian capitalist class and its
managing political elite, as crucial for Australias economic future;
so crucial, that nothing must be allowed to embarrass Chinas rulers.
As noted by various mainstream press reports, this policy has even involved
failing to follow the Bush administrations line on the need for
China to revalue its currency and indications that Australia may not
come to Taiwans aid if it was attacked by China.
Wu Banggou would have brought his own security detail to Australia,
we may be sure that security planning would have started well in advance
of the visit and that Chen Yonglin would have been a key player because
of his knowledge of the structure and activities of the local Falun
Gong organisation. In the normal course of events he would have been
present at the Opera House on that Monday night, if only because of
his ability to recognize Falun Gong members within the audience.
the mainstream press tell it, the trigger for Chens defection
was simply that the term of his posting to Australia had come to an
end. The story goes that, having developed a visceral dislike of the
regime he served or, alternatively, a great fondness for life in Australia,
he decided this was his last chance to gain asylum. Chens story
is that he feared his successor would deduce that he had formed relationships
with Falun Gong practitioners and had gone soft on the sect.
no way of knowing if that is true, but there is good reason to doubt
if it represents anything like the whole truth.
planning for Wu Banggous visit would have begun weeks before his
visit. It would probably have involved high-level secret service officers
visiting Australia and supervising the preparations. They would certainly
have held joint planning sessions with ASIO in relation to the Falun
Gong threat and operational details of the Chairmans itinerary.
They (and perhaps ASIO) would have picked Chens brains in relation
to potential threats, especially from the sect that it was his job to
monitor and harass. They would have pored over his files. His every
action would have been scrutinized, if only because a failure of duty
or judgement might have compromised the operation.
far more likely that Chens alleged sympathies for Falun Gong,
or indeed any other misdemeanor, would have been suspected or detected
as a result of this intense level of attention than it would have been
in the aftermath of his departure for China when his successor was feeling
his way into the anti-Falun Gong assignment.
about it. Heres a man who has been at the centre of his countrys
overseas espionage operations against a religious sect perceived to
be a threat to Chinas rulers. He has just spent an intense few
days briefing his countrys secret service operatives and liaising
with ASIO over high-level security for one of his countrys top
leaders during negotiations in which both nations have much at stake.
He could not have chosen a worse climate in which to defect. It follows
that Chen was probably in more immediate danger when he walked into
the Immigration office than he has been willing to admit or the mainstream
press has so far implied.