China has accused a senior diplomat who is seeking political asylum in Australia of fabricating stories about the abuse of political opponents by Beijing. The political affairs officer at China's consulate in Sydney walked out last month, and says he has defected because he opposes the persecution of dissidents by Beijing.

Senior Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin, second from right, is surrounded by media in Sydney, Australia, Saturday, June 4, 2005
Diplomat Chen Yonglin has been in hiding for almost two weeks with his wife and six-year-old daughter. He is reportedly living with supporters in Sydney's large expatriate Chinese community.

Mr. Chen has said he defected because he could no longer support China's treatment of dissidents, who - he said - were being kidnapped in Australia and sent back to be punished. He also alleges that China has a thousand spies working in Australia.

China's ambassador in Canberra, Fu Ying, says Mr. Chen has fabricated his allegations because he does not want to return to China at the end of his four-year posting. She rejects his claims that he would be punished if he went back to China.

The Australian government has not commented on Mr. Chen's claims about Chinese agents working in the country, and has said the diplomat will receive no special treatment as he seeks to stay in the country. His case presents a diplomatic dilemma for Canberra. It is negotiating with Beijing on a free trade deal that could be worth billions of dollars.

Some political analysts say China may link increased economic ties to cooperation from Canberra on Beijing's positions on political and security issues.

Kevin Rudd, foreign affairs spokesman for the main opposition Labor party, says Mr. Chen's future must be decided by humanitarian, not economic considerations. "These matters should be treated on their individual merits quite removed from any concerns about commercial interests or broader political interests in China," he said.

Mr. Chen is the highest profile attempted defection to Australia since Soviet spy Vladimir Petrov was granted political asylum in 1954.