Chinese spies and state-sponsored cyber-attacks get regular press for stealing economic, political, and military information.
Other activities, such as spying on and harassing groups that it attempts to crush back on the mainland — most notably democracy activists, Tibetans loyal to the Dalai Lama, Uyghurs, and peaceful Falun Gong practitioners — tend to generate fewer headlines.
But they do on occasion, most recently seen in the Australian media that reported on how Chinese officials tried to cajole one Sydney resident to spy on Falun Gong practitioners in Australia.
Chinese security forces often use Chinese business people and students to collect information for them, and they use various means to try and recruit people to do so.
But what happens if someone who is approached says “no?”
In the case of Falun Gong practitioner Michael Li, it ended up with his brother in China being arrested and his business harmed.
According to a report by The Sydney Morning Herald, Li was first approached by Chinese authorities when visiting China in the year 2000. Two years prior to this, Li had taken up the Falun Gong meditation practice as a way to beat an illness.
In 1999, Chinese authorities — led by the then Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin — instigated the persecution of the peaceful practice that, at that time, had an estimated 100 Chinese adherents.
It’s a simple practice and completely peaceful, with its three guiding principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance. See a video from China Uncensored about Falun Gong and why it’s being persecuted in China:
During Li’s China visit in 2000, he said Chinese officials suggested that he should start informing on Falun Gong practitioners in Australia where he had only recently set up a furniture business — a request he rebuffed.
Several years on and Li had become an Australian citizen, and his business was doing well. In southern China, he had a factory that was being managed by his brother.
During further trips to China, Li was repeatedly approached by Chinese officials asking him to spy on Falun Gong practitioners in Australia. Because his father was a high-level Communist Party member, Li was initially treated cordially, but the tone changed as he continued to refuse their advances. By 2005, he was expelled from China, reports the ABC’s Four Corners.
Because of his lack of cooperation, his brother at his factory was arrested for “falsifying VAT invoices.”
Li told The Sydney Morning Herald that his Chinese suppliers were informed by authorities that it was “a political case,” and that they should co-operate by handling over any relevant documents. Li also fears for the safety of his parents who are currently in Australia, but are due to return to China.
According to Falun Gong practitioners, what occurred to Li is not unusual.
“Michael [Li]’s story is the tip of the iceberg of the Falun Gong issue,” Sydney resident Melanie Sun told the North Shore Times.
“There’s so much behind why a huge economic superpower like China be so set on silencing and dissuading people to listen to a peaceful group like the Falun Gong.”
She said that the Chinese regime and their overseas offices have been spying on Falun Gong practitioners for years.
See how Beijing also spreads its hate speech overseas by targeting groups its doesn’t like:
In 2005, the former Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin sought asylum after publicly claiming there was a network of 1000 Chinese spies operating in Australia.
He said Chinese diplomatic missions were also monitoring Chinese democracy movements, Falun Gong practitioners, and supporters of the secession of Tibet, Taiwan, and East Turkistan from China. Chen was the first secretary at the Chinese consulate-general in Sydney.
Chen told The Age newspaper that he was ordered to do “dirty things” against Falun Gong practitioners, such as confiscating their passports and refusing them visas, so they could not visit their families in Mainland China.
“I want the Australian people to know that under the cover of economic growth, what really happens in China is the persecution against the people. A lot of people are living a life without freedom, a life of suffering and torture,” Chen told The Age.
See a report about Chen’s 2005 defection below: