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Australia Grants Protection Visa to Chinese Diplomat

Australia has granted a permanent "protection visa" to a former Chinese diplomat who sought asylum with a claim that China has a vast network of spies in Australia.

Chen Yonglin has been in hiding since fleeing the Chinese consulate in Sydney in May. He emerged sporadically to repeat his claims that China has as many as 1,000 spies in Australia. He says the Beijing government's abuse of political opponents forced him to defect.

Mr. Chen said he would be punished for speaking out if he was sent back to China.

A spokesman for Australian Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the former diplomat, his wife and six-year-old daughter had been granted permanent protection visas. These are often given to people fleeing persecution in their homeland. Officials in Canberra have yet to fully explain the reasons behind their decision.

Campaigners are delighted that Australia has finally granted Mr. Chen permission to stay in the country.

Refugee activist Ian Rintoul said the decision is further evidence that Canberra is softening its hard-line policies. "The government is under a lot of pressure now with its immigration practices. They've granted the visa to Chen. We can only hope it's an indication that the other Chinese asylum seekers are going to get similar treatment," he said.

Earlier Friday, China's ambassador to Australia, Fu Ying, warned that if Chen Yonglin was allowed to stay, it would encourage many others to make similar claims of persecution.

Ambassador Fu says Mr. Chen was motivated by greed and the desire for a better life.

Another Chinese official - a former secret policeman - is also seeking asylum in Australia. Hao Fengjun has claimed he was a member of China's internal security force working to crackdown on dissidents. He supported Chen Yonglin's allegations that Beijing was engaged in widespread espionage in Australia and is awaiting Canberra's decision on his asylum application.

China has described the allegations by the two defectors as "total slander."

Their cases put Australia in a very difficult diplomatic position at a time when it is negotiating with Beijing over a multi-billion dollar free trade deal.