China’s communist leaders view the United States as their main enemy and are working in Asia and around the world to undermine U.S. alliances, said a former Chinese diplomat.
Chen Yonglin, until recently a senior political officer at the Chinese Consulate in Sydney, Australia, said in an interview that China also is engaged in large-scale intelligence-gathering activities in the United States that, in the past, netted large amounts of confidential U.S. government documents from agents.
“The United States is considered by the Chinese Communist Party as the largest enemy, the major strategic rival,” Mr. Chen told The Washington Times in a telephone interview from Australia, where he is in hiding after breaking with Beijing in May.
All Chinese government officials are ordered to gather information about the United States, “no matter how trivial,” he said. “The United States occupies a unique place in China’s diplomacy,” Mr. Chen said.
A pro-democracy activist who took part in the 1989 demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Mr. Chen, 37, spent 10 years as a Foreign Ministry official. He said he defected and sought political asylum in Australia to highlight repression of the Chinese people by their government and the ruling Communist Party, as well as the repression of dissidents such as democracy activists and the Falun Gong spiritual group.
Most Chinese government activity in the United States involves information-gathering carried out by military-related intelligence officers or civilians linked to the Ministry of State Security, Mr. Chen said.
“I know that China once got a heavy load of confidential documents from the United States and sent it back to China through the Cosco ship,” Mr. Chen said, referring to the state-owned China Ocean Shipping Co.
The information was “very useful” to China’s military and related to “aircraft technology,” he said.
The Chinese also send political police abroad to monitor overseas Chinese and others in North America who Beijing considers opponents of the regime, he said.
China’s government has targeted Australia as part of its “money diplomacy” and is working hard to persuade Australia not to send troops to help the United States in any conflict over the Republic of China (Taiwan), Mr. Chen said.
China has sought to influence Australia’s government through high-level political visits and favorable trade and by offering contracts on energy-related products. The goal is to force Australia to become part of a China-dominated “grand neighboring region” in Asia and to “force a wedge between the U.S. and Australia,” he said.
The U.S. government has a close intelligence relationship with Australia and has been working to build stronger military ties, as the Pentagon shifts its global strategy toward Asia with the planned deployment of more arms in the western Pacific region to counter a Chinese military buildup.
Mr. Chen said he is “frustrated” that the Australian government in May turned down his request for political asylum, a move he thinks was linked to Australian government fears of upsetting Beijing.
Mr. Chen also said he fears that Chinese agents could kidnap him, as they have done with other exile dissidents. He said he prefers to stay in Australia with his wife and child, but also could seek asylum in the United States if Australia threatens to send him back to China, which he fears would endanger his life.
Two other Chinese government officials also defected recently in Australia and have revealed Chinese government spying activities.
Mr. Chen also provided new insights into the closed world of China’s ruling power structure and political tensions between President Hu Jintao and former President Jiang Zemin.
Mr. Hu is not fully in control of the government and military, and Mr. Jiang continues to wield power behind the scenes through allies in the armed forces, he said.
“Hu is still in the shadow of Jiang and will be until Jiang dies,” Mr. Chen said.
The Chinese leader, however, launched his own version of Chinese ideology at the end of last year that calls for education in advancing the Communist Party. Asked whether Mr. Hu will bring democratic reform to China, Mr. Chen said the Chinese leader is the beneficiary of the dictatorship and, therefore, is unlikely to make changes.
“For the past 16 years, a lot of people have been looking to see if the Communist Party can change from the top down to the low levels, but nothing changes,” Mr. Chen said.
On China’s military buildup, Mr. Chen said Beijing is following the strategy of former leader Deng Xiaoping, who urged China to “bide our time, build our capabilities” — military as well as economic and political. “What that means is that when the day is mature, the Chinese government will strike back,” he said.
Mr. Chen said the danger of a war over Taiwan is growing.
“That is possible as Chinese society is getting more unstable,” he said. “Once any serious civil disobedience occurs, the government may call for a war across the Taiwan Strait to gather [political] strength from people.”