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The Xinhua News Agency Correspondent over Amorous Emails Leaves Canada On ‘scheduled vacation’

Posted by Author on September 15, 2011

OTTAWA — The Chinese journalist at the centre of the furor over amorous emails from Conservative MP Bob Dechert has left Toronto and has returned to China, her supervisor says.

Xinhua News Agency correspondent Shi Rong went on a “scheduled vacation,” according to Zeng Hu, the state media agency’s North America bureau chief. Zeng said he didn’t know if Shi would be coming back to Toronto after her trip.

“She wanted to have a vacation for some time before,” Zeng said Thursday from the Xinhua bureau in New York City.

Zeng said he doesn’t know when Shi left but said he believes she went back to Beijing.

Emails allegedly hacked from Shi’s Gmail account revealed personal exchanges between her and Dechert, the MP for Mississauga-Erindale, Ont. The emails were forwarded to about 250 recipients on Shi’s contact list last week.
One message, apparently from Shi’s aggrieved husband, alleges she wanted a divorce to pursue a relationship with Dechert, who is married.

Dechert, 53, denies any wrongdoing and said the emails to Shi were merely “flirtatious.” He said he had only an innocent friendship with the much-younger Shi. Dechert serves as parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. Baird has called questions about the matter “ridiculous.”

But some security experts have charged that Xinhua functions as an intelligence-gathering arm of the Chinese government and say a private relationship with a Xinhua employee could put Canadian secrets at risk. The Harper government has resisted calls to relieve Dechert of his foreign affairs duties and has refused to say what steps it has taken to investigate his claim he did nothing inappropriate.

Shi’s departure from Canada in the midst of the media uproar suggests that government officials won’t have a chance to speak to her about it anytime soon, if ever. Before coming to Canada, Shi worked for Xinhua in Beijing. Her husband is reportedly now living in China, too, possibly with their young son.

The hacked emails suggest their relationship was rocky. One message sent from Shi’s account, with the author unknown, claimed Shi had called 911 on her husband and had used “domestic violence as the crime to send her husband to jail, and a court case that lasted five months,” the email said. Postmedia News was unable to find any Toronto police records supporting this story.

Xinhua’s Zeng dismissed as “irresponsible” claims that Xinhua functions as a spy agency for the Chinese government. Zeng said having a relationship with a politician could breach Xinhua’s professional standards, but he said he didn’t know if that was the case with Shi.

“I don’t want to speculate,” he said. “I don’t think we want to talk about those private relations.”

All the Canadian Xinhua bureaus are subsidiaries to the New York bureau but ultimately report to Xinhua’s Beijing headquarters.

The leaked emails have sparked renewed interest in comments about espionage by Canada’s top spy, Richard Fadden, who last year, claimed foreign governments were attempting to befriend Canadian politicians.

Last summer, one Conservative MP, Rob Anders, said he knew of fellow MPs and ministerial staff who were targeted in so-called “honey traps” on trips to China. Anders has been an outspoken critic on China in the past.

The Opposition New Democrats have called on Dechert to step down from his role as parliamentary secretary, though the Liberals have said only that the matter needs to be investigated further.

On Thursday, the head of a leading conservative group added his voice to those calling for the government to act on Dechert. Peter Coleman, head of the National Citizens Coalition, said Dechert should step aside from his position as parliamentary secretary.

“The optics, I think, look terrible,” Coleman said. “When you’re in a sensitive role like that, you should step aside until it’s resolved. I’m not sure he’s explained himself well enough.”

Coleman serves in the job once held by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Ottawa Citizen

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