July 14, 2012 12:00AM
A CHINESE spy's defection to Australia after growing too close to a female Falun Gong target has lifted the veil on Beijing's network of agents used to monitor overseas dissidents, and the tactics used to ensure their obedience.
The man's dramatic inside account - accepted by the most senior officer of the Refugee Review Tribunal - reveals how the defector was recruited from a police academy and required to pose as an international student to observe other young Chinese overseas.
The former spy said his obedience was maintained by two Chinese handlers who threatened to "severely punish" him and his poor family, who are now on the run inside China.
The status of the Falun Gong woman, who was arrested by Communist authorities while caring for her sick mother in July last year, is unknown.
The former spy, aged in his 20s, said he was hand-picked by China's foreign espionage agency, the Ministry of State Security - also known as the National Security Bureau, or NSB - in 2009 after distinguishing himself at high school and as a policing student.
After initially being told he had won a scholarship to study abroad, his family was presented with a contract agreeing to pay harsh financial penalties if he disobeyed government directives.
Following intensive language and cultural training, he was summoned to the NSB where a senior officer told him "that many young people around my age had studied in (the host country) during recent years; and that the NSB expected me to keep eyes on those young people and reported their activities, as many as possible," he told the Immigration Department last September.
He added that he was asked particularly to monitor any "anti-Communist" organisations or "evil cults" such as the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement.
But the young spy had no interest in espionage, explaining he secretly held liberal political views. "Frankly speaking, I just wanted to have a chance to study in the overseas from the beginning, and I never intended to do anything for the NSB," he said.
The controllers - a student and an older man - harassed him for information, threatening to force his family to pay out the contract. But, he claims, he still refused to provide intelligence.
Against that backdrop, the young woman moved into his eight-bedroom house, and despite her Falun Gong connections, they became "friendly".
In April last year, his controllers ordered him to locate a male Falun Gong practitioner suspected of selling anti-Communist literature in the host country. He knew him as a close friend of the woman, so he betrayed the NSB by telling her the truth and urging the man to flee overseas.
Most names, including that of the third country, have been withheld in the Refugee Review Tribunal's published reasons, but the type of visa noted in the spy's passport suggests the events occurred in Japan.
Having disclosed state secrets, he also became fearful for his safety and fled to Australia on a tourism visa in July last year.
The Falun Gong woman returned to China to care for her sick mother in Heilongjiang Province. The defector has since learned from a former NSB colleague that she was arrested and interrogated until she recounted her dealings with him.
Once the former spy's betrayal became clear, his father was also arrested, informed of his son's "anti-Communist" activities and was given three months to pay 500,000 yuan ($77,000).
The amount is more than seven times the average Chinese household yearly income and the former spy's parents are now on the run from authorities.
The former spy's status as a refugee was recognised seven weeks ago by then RRT principal member Denis O'Brien, who on assessing the available evidence, described the man as "a witness of truth".