Xinhua Accused of Monitoring China Critics in Canada

When Canadian MP Bob Dechert was found to have sent flirtatious emails to a Toronto-based Xinhua correspondent last year, it stoked suspicions that China’s official news agency doubles as an arm of its intelligence apparatus. A former Xinhua contributor in Ottawa has now accused the agency of using parliamentary press accreditation to gather information meant for official eyes only. From Kathryn Blaze Carlson at National Post:

“They tried to get me … to write a report for the Chinese government on the Dalai Lama using my press credentials as a way of getting access I wouldn’t otherwise have,” Mr. Bourrie, a long-time freelancer who has written for several major Canadian newspapers, said in an interview with the National Post. He alleges there are individuals within Xinhua who are acting as spies, seeking to “monitor [practitioners of the spiritual movement] Falun Gong, the Dalai Lama and any other critics of the Chinese government in Canada. That, I know for sure.”

[…] Mr. Bourrie said “90%” of his assignments were “normal” and that all of his own work was “legit,” but he also said there were warning bells along the way. The first sounded in June 2010, when he was asked to determine not only the identities of those who protested Chinese president Hu Jintao’s arrival at the G20 Summit in Toronto, but also where those protesters were staying.

[… L]ater he said he started receiving “weird” requests, including an assignment to determine how Canada deals with what Mr. Zhang [Dacheng, Xinhua’s Ottawa bureau chief] apparently called “evil cults” — more specifically, Mr. Bourrie said, he was interested in Falun Gong.

Bourrie left Xinhua in late April. But Zhang has denied any suggestion of espionage, according to Mike Blanchfield at The Canadian Press:

Zhang told The Canadian Press that Xinhua’s policy is to “cover public events by public means” and his bureau’s job is to cover news events and file the stories to Xinhua’s editing rooms. It is up to them to decide how and what to publish, Zhang said, calling those decisions internal matters.

[…] “Nobody told him to pretend to be a journalist and act for a foreign power,” Zhang said. “That is his Cold War ideology.”

Bourrie himself was dismissive of such accusations in the midst of last year’s Dechert scandal, writing at Ottawa Magazine that:

It makes for wonderful copy when a middle-aged backbencher sends lusty e-mails to a Xinhua reporter, but if Xinhua is typical of a Chinese spy agency, we have nothing to worry about.

[…] It does follow the comings and goings of Falan Gong and the Dalai Lama. If anyone is being spied on by Xinhua, it’s them. Still, the Dalai Lama’s handlers accredited Xinhua for a speech last week in Montreal by the exiled Tibetan leader.

There’s a strong anti-China lobby whose front men are ex-CSIS agents who are being quoted in this country’s best papers saying Xinhua is an arm of Chinese intelligence. They’re right that anything you tell Xinhua is being told to someone who might tell someone in Beijing. Giving anything sensitive or secret to any reporter is a dumb thing to do.

When dealing with any journalist, Xinhua or New York Times, don’t tell them anything you don’t want on a billboard. Simple as that.

August 23, 2012 6:03 AM
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