There’s a major diplomatic meltdown going on with the news in today’s Sydney Morning Herald
that Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin tried to defect to the US last week
after resistance from Australian officials to his request for asylum.

bid was met with surprise by the US, not least because the Australian
government had not informed its close ally of the explosive diplomatic
and intelligence development almost a week after it came to light,
report Tom Allard and Joseph Kerr.

The Minister for Immigration, Amanda Vanstone, conceded
yesterday that Australia had rejected Mr Chen’s bid for political

China’s ambassador, Fu Ying, promised that Mr Chen would
not face jail or execution if he returned home, even though he had
tarnished China’s image.

Mr Chen – a senior diplomat at China’s
Sydney consulate who was responsible for monitoring dissidents among
the Chinese diaspora in NSW – attempted to defect on May 26, weeks
before he was due to be posted back to Beijing.

He says he was a
democracy advocate and had helped Falun Gong members, among others,
behaviour his successor in the Sydney consulate was likely to

government’s handling of the Chen case is becoming another immigration
controversy. We’ve already seen how the rights of Australians get
steamrolled when Amanda Vanstone puts her weight behind policies. She’s
scarcely capable of the fleet footwork demanded by diplomatic dancing,
while Foreign Minister Alexander Downer appears to have broken one of
his high heels.

The domestic angles of the story are becoming more confused, too. Greens leader Bob Brown has jumped on board, with news on AM
this morning that the Greens are providing Chen with legal advice – and
no-one doubts Tibet campaigner Brown’s interest in human rights issues
in China.

And former diplomat and shadow foreign affairs
minister Kevin Rudd has been given a beautiful free kick. “I would have
thought a more intelligent approach would have simply been to telephone
the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and ask someone in the
China section to have a look at the diplomatic and consular list,” he
said. “I would assume Mr Chen’s name is listed on the consular list.”

Incompetent government handling of immigration is now turning from a domestic embarrassment to an international embarrassment.