Former Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin defected to Australia almost a decade ago after warning local officials of “over 1,000 Chinese secret agents and informants in Australia”.
Now he works as a businessman but has issued a renewed caution to Australia that a “huge number” of Chinese spy networks could be operating locally.
Chen believes the number of secretive Chinese operatives has significantly grown since 2005, when he stopped working for China’s foreign service.
“There should be some increase after over 10 years because China is now the wealthiest government in the world, they should have money, they should be [able] to afford raise a huge number of spies here,” he told ABC News.
Chen believes the 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin to Chinese-owned company Landbridge and China’s military expansion in the South China Sea are “strategically important” to China.
“I think it’s very stupid. It’s common sense that Darwin Port is strategically important and against the northern invasion,” Chen said.
Questions were raised in October 2015 when the Northern Territory Government awarded Landbridge a 99-year lease to the Darwin Port, which is used by Australian defence forces, in a deal worth worth $506 million.
Since then, rules about the sale of critical infrastructure have been tightened under foreign ownership rules introduced by treasurer Scott Morrison.
Chen Yonglin arrived in Australia in August 2001 and assumed the role of Consul for political affairs at the Chinese Consulate in Sydney.
He was in charge of implementing the PRC Central Government policy in relation to the “Five Poisonous Groups”: Falun Gong, pro-democracy movement activists, pro-Taiwan independence force, pro-Tibet separation force and Eastern Turkistan force.
In 2005 Chen, 37 at the time, quit his role and successfully sought political asylum for his wife and six-year-old daughter after declaring what he had learned about secret agents planted in Australia.
The Chinese embassy claimed Chen had fabricated the stories as a ploy to stay in the country.
His defection was the the highest-profile case in 50 years.
In a subsequent senate report Chen said it distressed him to work for an authority that used the information he collected against the individuals and their families.
“I got the number of 1,000 secret agents and informants from a document and I know that there are two systems operating in the Chinese missions overseas in some important cities like Canberra and Sydney,” he said in a senate report into his request for political asylum.
“One is the diplomatic system; the other is the information collection system reporting to the intelligence service of China.
“When I was working in the Chinese consulate in Sydney, I often accessed reports from Beijing, China, about some activities of dissidents that even we in Sydney did not know about.
“These were from certain intelligence services that indicated that they were very active in Australia, especially when there was a very senior official or leader visiting Australia including Chairman Li Peng in the year 2002, President Hu Jintao in the year 2003 and, this year, Chairman Wu Bangguo.
“They gave all these information alerts. That made it very clear to me that there must be a network operating in Australia.”
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