Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Reassigned, no more foreign assignments

Punished for getting caught, or her reputation too tarnished to represent Xinhua abroad, Shi Rong is now in Beijing, and she’s not going anywhere

Back in September I was among a small group of reporters who argued that the “flirtatious e-mail” scandal surrounding MP Bob Dechert, an aide to Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, and Shi Rong (施蓉), the Toronto bureau chief for Xinhua news agency, was more problematic than Ottawa would admit. While Dechert did not suffer to consequences of his indiscretions being made public — at least not in terms of his position within the Stephen Harper government — soon afterwards Shi Rong was called back to Beijing, where she remains to this day. Xinhua has since announced that a replacement had been found at the Toronto bureau.

The whole affair received little coverage outside Canada, and practically none in China. Sources in Beijing have since confirmed to me that Shi Rong was now working at Xinhua headquarters in Beijing, and that she would not be posted abroad anytime soon, if ever. Whether this is punishment for her getting caught, or that her reputation is now too tarnished for her to represent the state-owned news bureau abroad again, has yet to be established. But the same sources in Beijing scoffed at the suggestion that she was not, in some way, acting as an intelligence officer for China.

Xinhua is regarded as an extension of the Chinese intelligence apparatus, with “reporters” often answering to the Ministry of State Security (MSS) or the People’s Liberation Army General Staff Department (GSD). Most, if not all Xinhua reporters, must also pass through Central Party School, and top universities often groom future Xinhua “reporters” with perfect party credentials.

The Shi Rong controversy may have made intelligence collection by Xinhua in Canada a little more difficult, but it didn’t end with the young woman’s departure.

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