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Second defecting Chinese official backs claims of 1,000 spies in Australia

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A second Chinese official hoping to defect to Australia as backed statements made by an asylum-seeking diplomat that Beijing has hundreds of spies in the country.

Chinese business people and students as well as embassy and consulate officials are engaged in espionage in Australia, former security official Hao Feng Jun said in a television interview late Tuesday.

China has denied the claim, which was first made by defecting diplomat Chen Yonglin, former first secretary at the Chinese consulate-general in Sydney, on the weekend.

Chen, who abandoned his diplomatic post about two weeks ago and requested political asylum in Australia, said "some thousand" Chinese spies and informants were operating in the country.

The diplomat has requested political asylum, saying he faces persecution at home for having aided Chinese pro-democracy activists and other dissidents in Australia.

Australian authorities initially rejected Chen's plea for asylum, but officials this week said they were considering a temporary protection visa for the fugitive diplomat.

Officials here have refused to comment on Chen's spying allegations, which were angrily rejected late Tuesday by a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing.

"The rumors spread by Chen Yonglin are total slander and hopefully you will not take it in easily," said the spokesman, Liu Jianchao.

But Chen's allegations were backed up by Hao, who resented himself as a former Chinese security official who travelled to Australia as a tourist in February and has also requested political asylum.

"I worked in the police office in the security bureau and I believe that what Mr. Chen says is true," Hao said through a translator.

"They send out businessmen and students out to overseas countries as spies," he said.

Hao, 32, said Chinese spies infiltrated the Falungong editation movement and other groups overseas and sent back information to China.

"They'd send all this intelligence information through from Australia, from North America, Canada and other countries and are reported back to the National Security Bureau, but also the Public Security Bureau. They'd sent
back lots of information," he said.

Hao said he was formerly a police officer attached to a specialist security unit in northern Tianjin province monitoring Falungong, a group China has termed an evil cult, and had witnessed the torture of its practitioners.

He said he was prompted to speak out after hearing about Chen, who has been living in hiding with his wife and six-year-old daughter since leaving his job on May 26.

Australia's handling of the Chen case is being closely watched by the political opposition and refugee rights groups concerned that Canberra could place its burgeoning trade relations with China ahead of human rights.

Prime Minister John Howard launched multi-billion dollar free trade negotiations with China during a trip to Beijing in April and Australia is also keen to expand resource exports to China's booming economy.

Chen, 37, said on the weekend that he had asked for political asylum after becoming disillusioned with his work monitoring dissident groups but that his application was rejected by officials who did not even interview him.

The Chinese consulate-general has refuted Chen's claims, saying he has made up the stories so he can stay in Australia where he has lived for the past four years.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Wednesday said that Chen had not formally applied for political asylum and was now being considered for a protection visa which would allow him to stay in the country.

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