Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Under a cloud – [James Sun] [The Age]

Spy or innocent? How far will the Australian government be willing to go to save a family from a five-year nightmare? Earlier report from the Age here.

– – –

Under a cloud
Anne Davies
Source – The Age, published February 2, 2011


James Sun. Photo - The Age

JAMES Sun was looking forward to a night out in Beijing. Before he left Australia to visit his mother, he had organised to have dinner with a group of old friends, including some he knew from his days in the Chinese Air Force.

On that cold night on February 11, 2006 he had no idea his comfortable life in Australia, working as the representative for a company that recruited foreign students from China, was about to be shattered.

Nor was he aware that the lives of his partner, Mrs Sun, and his unborn child were about to be swept up in a five-year nightmare that would leave them all so terrified for their own safety and that of their families in China, that they would remain silent about Sun’s ordeal until now.

As he strolled though Beijing’s Haidian district, Sun was surrounded by police from China’s State Security Bureau, bundled into a vehicle and driven to the outskirts of the city to SSB’s notorious detention centre.

It was there that Sun would spend the next 22 months being grilled about his alleged spying activities for the Taiwanese government. On that first day he sent a heart-rending message to his pregnant de facto wife.

Reports of his time in captivity are harrowing. Family members say Sun has told them he was interrogated by five different people, one at a time, for three days. On the third day he passed out in the toilet from exhaustion. When he wouldn’t co-operate he was shackled to a water pipe in the toilet of an empty cell at night, where he was feasted on by mosquitoes.

He was forbidden to read or write or wear the strong glasses he needs to correct his shortsightedness. During the day the was made to sit on the floor for hours ”to have introspection”. At night he would sit on the floor to watch a television attached to the wall 3.5 metres above the floor. Without his glasses he couldn’t see anything clearly but he was still forced to raise his head at an angle to ”watch” the propaganda programs for two hours, without changing his position.

Sun’s inquisitors found the most effective method of interrogation was to make threats against his family, and not just those in mainland China. ”We can make your wife become another one’s wife and your son become other one’s son,” they told him.

For three days after Sun disappeared his wife made frantic calls to his mobile phone but they were never answered. She telephoned his mother in China, fearing he had had an accident. Then, at midnight on the fourth day, 10 police officers searched his mother’s home, and seized cameras, DVDs, photographs and books. As soon as the police had left, Sun’s terrified mother called Mrs Sun who then telephoned the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra.

Within 12 hours DFAT confirmed her partner had been taken into custody by SSB. After two days of negotiation with Chinese authorities, Australian embassy officials were permitted to visit Sun. According to their report, four SSB officers were present and the 30-minute visit was filmed, and translated by the SSB.

SSB told Australian embassy officials that Sun was being ”investigated” and was under ”residential surveillance”. He could have a lawyer, who would have to be approved by the SSB. No letters, phone calls or visitors would be permitted while he was being questioned, but parcels would be allowed after they were checked. Later, SSB officers said Sun would be allowed money, even though there was nothing he could spend it on.

Australian embassy officials first visited Sun six days after he was arrested, through whom he sent a message to his partner: ”I am very sorry. Take care of everything for our baby. Just believe the Australian government – no one else. If you need money ask my brother. Tell my family I love them more than I can say.”

Embassy staff continued to visit Sun every month in the first years of his detention, but in 2009 this slowed to every three months.

Officials have constantly asked about his welfare (he indicated he had no welfare concerns) and reminded him of his right to have a lawyer approved by the Chinese government, though they noted on one occasion that Sun ”clearly feels constrained at present”.

Exactly what happened at Sun’s trial is unclear. Sun declined to have a lawyer, telling embassy staff ”it would be no use”.

The Australian embassy asked to attend but was denied because the case involved national security.

It has not been given a transcript.

Embassy staff were permitted to attend the 20-minute verdict hearing in September 2007, at which Sun was convicted of being a spy for Taiwan and sentenced to death.

(The body that represents Taiwan in Australia, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, yesterday denied Taiwan had any association with James Sun or that he was spying for them. ”The allegation that Taiwan is recruiting agents within the Australian-Chinese community is totally untrue and unfounded.”)

Six weeks after the hearing the Australian embassy was given the seven-page document confirming Sun’s sentence.

The documents reveal the main evidence against Sun was his own confession, which his partner says he did not see until he appeared in court. She insists it was concocted.

”He is not a spy. If he was really a spy, why would he be so relaxed about going back to China and seeing all his friends so openly?” she says.

But according to the Chinese record, Sun admitted to being recruited to the Taiwan Military Information Bureau by his employer at the foreign student agency, Beijing Wanjia Cultural Exchange Company, and that he was motivated by the lure of easy money.

They say he was given the code name Li Qiang. ”My target was to obtain information of the China mainland with regard to the fields of political and military situation and persuade Chinese people to support me,” Sun was reported to have told investigators.

”In September 2002 I came back to China to meet my friend Yang Delong, who is in the air service (Chinese Air Force). I persuaded him into providing military information to me by the pretext that Taiwan’s money is easy to get.”

According to the statement, Sun confessed to providing Yang with a digital camera, memory card, notebook computer and encryption software and to teaching him how to encrypt documents. For his spying work he admitted to receiving 500,000 yuan ($A76,100).

Yang, who was charged, tried and convicted separately, also gave evidence. According to Sun’s relatives Yang had lost all his teeth by the time he appeared in court. He has since disappeared, but it is likely Yang, as a serving military officer, received a death sentence.

The court was told that when the air force’s political branch searched Yang’s house it found 1012 separate documents including eight classified ”top confidential”, 109 ”national confidential”, 479 ”national secret” and 416 ”internal circulated”.

They included ”the Commander’s Speech to Air Force Hidden War Working meeting”, ”Air Force Equipment of Military Battle against Taiwan”, and ”Overall Plan for Air Force Weapon Development and Construction before 2020”.

According to court documents investigators also seized ”illegal money”: between 2002 and 2005 Yang said he made eight drops of documents to Sun and received a total of 1.04 million yuan.

Other evidence came in the form of testimony designed to show how Sun might have smuggled the documents out of China and smuggled $15,000 in cash in. One man testified he had been asked to bring CDs of a popular Chinese TV serial to Sun. Another man who had sent his son to Australia to study, said Sun offered to pay the son’s tuition fees in Australia if the man gave $15,000 to his friend in China, whom he identified as Yang. Yang’s wife testified the two men chatted on the internet.

The were also certificates from the Beijing State Security Bureau that said Sun was an agent of the Taiwan Military Information Bureau – although on what facts this allegation is based, is not clear.

”How can China certify that a citizen of another country is spying for yet another country?” asks Mrs Sun, who believes her partner was targeted because he was previously in the Chinese Air Force and may have had information that was embarrassing to the regime.

Sun was initially sentenced to death, but early last year this was commuted to a life sentence, a development that should make him eligible for transfer to an Australian prison where he could serve out his sentence. In 2007, Australia signed a treaty with China for the repatriation of prisoners, but the federal government has yet to pass enabling legislation.

Since 2007, Sun has been held in the harsh conditions of Beijing Municipal Prison No. 2, which also contains violent criminals.

Sun has met his son, now four, six times. Embassy officials have taken the child to visit his father in a meeting room provided by the prison. Mrs Sun is not permitted to visit because she and Sun are not married, but he is allowed to telephone her once a month.

Instead, she spends her days writing letters to Australian politicians. She says they all give her the same message – she must wait for the prisoner repatriation treaty with China to be signed, and even then, nothing is certain.

Now in her 30s, Mrs Sun tries to live a normal life. She works in an office. Her colleagues are unaware of her secret. It is only as she talks of her son and that he has started to ask about his father, that she breaks down.

She says her only hope now is that the Australian government will affirm the repatriation of prisoners treaty and that Sun will serve his life sentence here.


Filed under: Australia, Beijing Consensus, Chinese Model, Chinese overseas, Crime, Culture, Domestic Growth, Human Rights, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, People, Politics, Soft Power, The Age, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

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