The Chinese government has waded into the controversy over the Bob Dechert affair, a sign that the fallout from a Canadian MP’s relationship with a journalist for China’s state-controlled news agency is creating ripple effects in international relations.
The Chinese embassy in Canada only infrequently makes public statements to Canadian news media.
An embassy spokesman told The Globe and Mail that China considers Mr. Dechert’s travails a private matter. He also said it’s “irresponsible” for the press to imply that Beijing had any hand in it.
More than five days ago, Mr. Dechert, a Conservative MP with special foreign affairs duties, admitted to sending amorous e-mails to Xinhua News Agency correspondent Shi Rong. He denied compromising Canadian secrets and said his “flirtatious” messages – which include professing love for the younger woman – were part of an “innocent friendship.”
Canada’s top spy last year warned that the Chinese were trying to infiltrate Canadian politics. Western intelligence agencies consider Xinhua a tool of the Chinese state that collects information for Beijing.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Ottawa said the country has nothing to say about what he framed as a couple’s quarrels.
Both Mr. Dechert, 53, and Ms. Shi, whom colleagues estimate is in her 30s, are married to other people. The MP’s intimate e-mails to the Chinese journalist were broadly leaked last Thursday night to more than 240 contacts across Canada, a move Ms. Shi blames on her husband.
“We have noted related reports, but are in no position to comment on ‘domestic disputes’ and the privacy of those involved,” the Chinese embassy spokesman said, asking that he not be named. “However, it must be pointed out that it is irresponsible to use this to defame the Chinese government.”
The Prime Minister’s Office is standing by Mr. Dechert, saying it has no information to contradict the Mississauga–Erindale MP’s assertion that he has not engaged in “inappropriate behaviour.” Officials say by this they mean that he has not compromised Canadian state secrets.
There are further indications, however, that the relationship between Mr. Dechert and Ms. Shi went deeper than a friendship.
Little noticed in the cache of leaked messages and photos that brought the Dechert affair to light last week were two notes, apparently written by Ms. Shi’s husband and sent to a broad range of contacts, that accuse her of being in love with the MP.
One of these notes accused Ms. Shi of seeking to dissolve her marriage “in order to be in love” with this “congressman,” or MP. “This is the Shi Rong you should have known,” the angry note says in Chinese.
Another is apparently directed at Ms. Shi’s Xinhua editors in Beijing.
“Shi Rong’s husband found out about these problems but failed so many times to persuade her [to stop] so [I]wanted to reflect this situation to [Xinhua]which sent her to work” in Canada. “Shi Rong was praised many times by headquarters and has also almost reached the end of her posting, [so she]is afraid this thing will affect her future development.”
In all, recipients report receiving three e-mails from her address over the space of six hours: one with the MP’s e-mails and other correspondence, another with no attachments and a third from Ms. Shi telling them to disregard what they’d read.
Ms. Shi is the Toronto correspondent for Xinhua. A Chinese-language journalistic colleague of Ms. Shi said acquaintances of the Xinhua reporter had the impression her husband did not live with her full time in Toronto but resided in Beijing and visited from time to time.
A Globe journalist visited Xinhua’s Toronto offices Wednesday but was turned away by two staffers who refused to discuss the matter.