Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Case of Chen Yonglin

The case of Chen Yonglin is surely going to be an interesting one to watch, most notably of course the way the government reacts to it. The general consensus seems to be that Howard is in a tricky and embarrassing situation, that it doesn’t want to offend our ‘Chinese friends’, yet by the same token, doesn’t want to appear a hypocrite when it comes to defending human rights. After our involvement in the Iraq war, with one of its main reasons being the liberation of an oppressed people, it would be hypocritical in the extreme not to grant asylum to Chen Yonglin.

At Bob Brown’s website, the Senator has posted Chen Yonglin’s original letter requesting asylum in full. It makes interesting reading. The former diplomat describes the groups of people he has spied on, what the Chinese government calls ‘the five poisonous groups’. He calls his work a sin and confessed that his hair ‘turns white quickly in the last 4 years for frequent nightmares.’

Alexander Downer has declined the application for political asylum, so as not to offend the Communist dictatorship. The swine has even organised a ban on Falun Gong protestors outside the Chinese embassy in Canberra. That's right, our scourge of the despot seems not to want to offend the Chinese dictatorship. Now Mr Yonglin must try his luck through the normal immigration channels.

I’ve found a lot of the commentary in the media really interesting, with quite a few surprises. Greg Sheridan in The Australian wrote:

‘The incredible slowness in any main party getting behind Chen (except for the Australian Greens, who in this have been wholly admirable, and the odd courageous backbencher such as Labor's Michael Danby, the member for Melbourne Ports) gives a sense that the Chinese have messed with Australians' heads, that we are now so caught up with the mantra of not doing anything to offend China that simple matters of human dignity and essential political values are apparently up for negotiation.’

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I never thought I’d see Sheridan praise the Greens.

Conservative columnist Michael Duffy wrote a very good column in the Sydney Morning Herald, basically saying how hypocritical the government has been over Chen Yonglin. He asks, why aren’t people going narky over another ‘queue jumper’?

‘The Chen affair has largely been framed as a balancing act between human rights and Australia's trade interests. But it's also a balancing act between the treatment of different social and ethnic types of refugee. The basic rule has been that poor Muslims come to Australia by boat and we lock them up (even though most are later proved to be genuine refugees) while wealthy Christians arrive by air and are allowed to live in the community while their claims are considered (even though most are later sent home).

The sight of Chen being treated with such concern by leading members of the Government is going to confuse a lot of ordinary people. There haven't been all that many Chinese refugees in the past decade, and the potential for category confusion is considerable. Some people might start wondering why we aren't locking up more illegals rather than fewer.’

Other interesting pieces on the affair are by Michelle Grattan at The Age.

Bob Brown on Meet The Press:

‘Well, I think the protection of human rights in Australia should certainly take precedence. And is it legal for so many people from the Chinese Embassy or commissioned by the Chinese Government to be spying on Australian citizens? Do we allow the threat of police state intervention on citizens on our soil? Of course we don't. And I think, by the way, I note the legal opinion that when Mr Chen went to the Government to seek asylum went to DIMIA - the Department of Immigration - and they then called the Chinese Embassy, that in itself appears to have been illegal thing for the Government to do in this country under our own laws.'

And Phillip Ruddock on the ABC’s Insiders.

This will be one story to watch, as it ties up all the governments attitudes to asylum seekers and oppressive, anti-democratic regimes. If you want to find out the truth, keep watching.
Or as Michael Duffy said:

‘The new compassion in the Coalition for all refugees, not just Chen, raises some interesting questions.

Does it mean the toughness of the past was assumed? If so, what does it say about the moral seriousness of the Coalition - is the new compassion as false as the old severity?
What effect will it have - if it becomes policy - on the famous notion that the public might not always like Howard, but at least it knows what he stands for? So it will be very interesting to see how the public responds to the neo-coms.’


(I should add here for those who haven’t read the Duffy article that by neo-coms he means neo-compassionates, an expression he created for the article, meant as a bit of a spoof on neo-cons.)

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