The Chinese reporter made famous in Canada for her e-mail exchanges with a smitten Conservative politician has resurfaced at an Ivy League school in the United States.
Shi Rong, formerly the Toronto correspondent for Beijing’s Xinhua news service, is pursuing a postgraduate degree at Harvard University. Two years after she left Canada in a cloud of controversy she now is enrolled at an academic hub for elite foreign bureaucrats and politicians on the rise.
In 2011, Ms. Shi’s close friendship with Mississauga MP Bob Dechert made headlines when their e-mail correspondence was leaked. (“You are so beautiful. I really like the picture of you by the water with your cheeks puffed,” reads one of Mr. Dechert’s e-mails from this period. “That look is so cute, I love it when you do that. ...”)
The relationship caused political fallout, given the 55-year-old Mr. Dechert’s proximity to government secrets – he is a parliamentary secretary in the Foreign Affairs Department – and also because of the much-younger Ms. Shi’s ties to Xinhua, a news organization that Beijing is accused of using sometimes as a cover for intelligence gathering.
The married Mr. Dechert resisted calls for his resignation, saying he had only been “flirtatious” and had done nothing improper. Ms. Shi, who said her e-mail account was hacked and leaked by her jealous husband, was recalled to China.
In June, she started a Facebook account saying she is studying in Cambridge, Mass., at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. This elite institution boasts of several notable policy wonks. Former Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff teaches there. Mexico’s Felipe Calderone studied there before becoming president of his country.
Harvard would not confirm Ms. Shi’s enrolment, and The Globe and Mail could not reach her directly. A friend of hers, however, told The Globe she is indeed studying at the Kennedy School, and added that she is contemplating returning to Xinhua after her time in Boston.
A China expert affiliated with the Kennedy School said he knew nothing about Ms. Shi or her story – but argued that her presence could only be a good thing.
“I hope the people from the Xinhua agency come to Harvard and learn something about freedom of the press ... it would be good for the Chinese people in the long run,” journalist Marvin Kalb said in an interview.
The Canadian government has sometimes been wary of the news service. In 2005, a former Xinhua correspondent was kicked out of the Ottawa bureaucracy after she had gained citizenship and sought Top Secret clearance. “As a former employee of Xinhua, [she] may have engaged in intelligence activities on behalf of a foreign state,” reads a written ruling from that case.
Harvard has had some security problems too. In 2000, a man calling himself “Don Heathfield” posed as a Canadian and got a masters degree in public administration from the Kennedy School. A decade later, the U.S. government arrested him as a Russian spy.
He was sent back to Moscow in a swap involving a 10-member ring of “illegal” Russian spies, and Harvard stripped him of his degree.