Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Dangerous Liaisons

Bob Deschert and Xinhua reporter Shi Rong
It is shocking to discover a member of the Canadian government is embroiled in a scandal over love messages to a Xinhua reporter. But perhaps even more appalling is that the ruling Conservatives will not do anything to punish him for his silly actions.

Bob Dechert who was first elected Member of Parliament for Mississauga-Erindale in the province of Ontario in 2008, is now one of two parliamentary press secretaries to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and a vice-president of the Canada-China Legislative Association which brings together lawmakers from both countries.

As a member of the foreign affairs committee, Dechert accompanied Prime Minister Stephen Harper to China in 2009.

Last week a mass email was sent out to more than 240 media, academic, political and business contacts that revealed the amorous messages Deschert wrote to Xinhua's Toronto correspondent Shi Rong.

One email he wrote on April 17, 2010 says: "You are so beautiful. I really like the picture of you by the water with your cheeks puffed. That look is so cute, I love it when you do that. Now I miss you even more."

In another he said he "enjoyed the drive [to Ottawa] by thinking of you". He then encouraged her to watch the parliamentary proceedings in the House of Commons. "We will be voting at 6:30pm. If you have time, watch the TV or on your computer (on the CPAC website) and I will smile at you. I miss you. Love, Bob."

Deschert played down the emails as an "innocent" friendship and explained the surprise release of the emails were due to an "ongoing domestic dispute", while Shi blamed her husband for hacking into her email and sending out the missives.

Regardless the reason, critics are calling for Deschert to step down for the serious embarrassment he has caused the government.

Liberal Senator Jim Munson, a former journalist who worked in China for five years and sits on the executive of the Canada-China Legislative Association says elected officials need to be careful when dealing with Xinhua.

"Any politician in Canada who has any relations with Xinhua should be aware that Xinhua is the voice of the government of China and that one should be very, very careful in his or her dealings," he said. "You have to recognize that Xinhua is the communications arm, the propaganda arm, the voice of the government of China."

Charles Burton, a Brock University professor and former diplomat to China agrees.

"The function of the Xinhua news agency is not to provide reporting that will provide information to the Chinese newspaper readership, but to gather information, some of which is used for internal purposes," he explained. "It should be made clear to Canadians with security clearances that contacts with the Xinhua news agency amount to contacts with agents of a foreign power and therefore one should be very prudent."

What Burton says is quite true. During my time in Beijing I learned that Xinhua reporters that rise through the ranks are those who were chosen to join when they finished their tertiary education. They were not only accepted for their academic performance but also for their devotion to the Party.

A reporter could not have come from another news organization either -- they had to be a fresh slate for Xinhua and if they were deemed good in their reporting or perhaps connections they got promoted.

The more trusted they were, the more they were allowed to do investigative reporting -- but these reports didn't necessarily make it into the newspaper. These reporters were sometimes purely for the consumption of senior leaders. They could be about serious topics on corruption to the hygiene levels of Beijing restaurants.

So it is fair to say that while these reporters may not consider themselves to be spies as such, they are providing information to the leadership, not just a straight news story.

The Harper government should really think twice about keeping on Deschert. While Canada is anxious to maintain good ties with China, perhaps it should stay away from the amorous type.

1 comment:

  1. bob deschert should know himself better when in his government position he should not have any personal liaison with a news gathering person from xinhua.