The Chinese journalist enveloped by political scandal over amorous e-mails she received from MP Bob Dechert has returned home to China, sources say.
Until the Dechert affair broke, Shi Rong had been serving as the Toronto correspondent for Xinhua News Agency, an organization controlled by the Chinese government.
Ms. Shi was already due to head to Beijing for a previously scheduled vacation beginning in late September – but has now left Canada early. She is believed to have flown home earlier this week, possibly on Tuesday night.
Before the Dechert affair unfolded, Ms. Shi had arranged to spend a significant portion of October in China to get her Canadian work visa renewed and report back to headquarters at Xinhua.
Friends and acquaintances say the Chinese reporter faces an uncertain career future: It’s unclear whether Xinhua will return her to her job in Toronto or reassign her.
On Sept. 9, Mr. Dechert, a Conservative MP with special foreign affairs duties, admitted to sending “flirtatious” e-mails to Ms. Shi. He denied compromising Canadian secrets and said his 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.
The Dechert affair has drawn special attention to Beijing’s activities in Canada just as China is preparing to build up its public-relations outreach to Canadians.
China Daily, a state-run English-language newspaper, is planning an expansion into Canada - part of a ramped-up soft power campaign by Beijing to shape world opinion. The paper is preparing to publish an edition for distribution in Canada starting in December, a staffer in its New York office said Thursday.
Effectively a propaganda arm of the Chinese government, China Daily was launched in 1981 with the explicit aim of transmitting Beijing’s take on things to the world. The paper’s launch in Canada will include a heavy focus on Toronto and Vancouver.
The primary market isn’t the big numbers of ethnic Chinese in these cities, but rather Canadians of all backgrounds in business, politics or academia, China Daily project manager Liu Lian said.
“We are planning to set up local offices and target Canadian audiences, but the edition will probably be called China Daily North America instead of China Daily Canada,” Ms. Liu said.
She said the paper will feature China-related news on business, politics and culture – as well as Canadian stories that relate to China. “We try to present China in what we would say is a more well-rounded perspective,” Ms. Liu said.
The move comes two years after China Daily launched a U.S. edition.
Other state-controlled media have flourished as China’s economy has grown rapidly over the last decade. CCTV – China Central Television – has been relaunched, and the Xinhua newswire, has undergone massive expansion.
China’s moves are in sharp contrast to how most Western media organizations are shrinking their foreign operations.
China Daily has historically been a turgid read, but has gotten livelier and slicker in recent years.
It’s clearly aimed at readers outside of China. Electronic versions of China Daily stories are regularly accompanied by an invitation to use Twitter to spread the story online, even though Twitter is blocked in the People’s Republic of China.
The newspaper is currently surveying Canadians through two market research firms to prepare for the launch, asking respondents what kind of news they’d like, how they see China and how they consider the Asian country relevant to their lives and careers.
China Daily has made no secret of how it views the Western media. In 2010, responding to a BBC poll of how various countries regard each other, the paper said public opinion about China was shaped by the Western media, which it described as “unsuitably seasoned with misunderstanding, misinterpretation or even bias and enmity.” At the time, China Daily held out hope for change in its favour. “As mutual understanding deepens, public opinion will change,” it said.