Friday, January 29, 2016
China charges Canadian with spying, stealing state secrets
After 18 months of holding him without charges, Chinese authorities have accused Kevin Garratt of "accepting tasks" to gather intelligence on China for Canadian spy services.
An investigation found evidence that the Canadian man had engaged in espionage, China’s central state-run Xinhua News Agency said in a two-paragraph update late Thursday.
Mr. Garratt was charged with spying and stealing state secrets in Dandong, the northeastern Chinese city where he and his wife, Julia, ran a popular coffee shop near a river overlooking North Korea before they were detained Aug. 4, 2014.
The charges return to the fore a case that has become a point of heated contention between Ottawa and Beijing, at a time the two sides have, under the Justin Trudeau government, sought more robust trade ties and a departure from past frictions.
Canada’s foreign-affairs department called his indictment “concerning,” saying in a statement that “the government of Canada has raised this case with the Chinese government at high levels.”
A lawyer for the Garratts in Beijing said he had no comment on the indictment. The couple’s eldest son, Simeon, said he, too, could say little “as I know just as much as you.”
He said his mother remains in China on bail, after she was released from custody Feb. 5, 2015, and ordered not to leave the country or speak with media.
Rich Kao, senior pastor at Five Stones Church, the New Westminster, B.C., congregation the Garratts attended, said: “As a church family, we have been praying and longing for Kevin’s release. Our hearts are sick over this but hopeful for a peaceable outcome.”
The Garratts first came to China in 1984 and, over decades of living in different cities, they ran a translation company, a kindergarten and community centres. Mr. Garratt is a Pentecostal pastor and the couple’s work was supported by donations from Canadian churches. In 2008, they moved to Dandong, where they held Sunday church services in their home and helped to co-ordinate the delivery of food and equipment to North Korean orphanages and homes for the elderly.
Dandong is the most important crossing point for goods and people into North Korea and a frequent crossroads for spies, journalists and diplomats looking for insights into the secretive country. The Garratts travelled into North Korea to assess needs and inspect the goods they had sent in, including rice, corn and a machine that makes soy milk from soybeans. In China, meanwhile, their coffee house became popular for serving the best brews in town and some of the only Western food.
Their detention after three decades of humanitarian work in China created a diplomatic storm, with then-prime minister Stephen Harper raising their case directly with Chinese leadership during a state visit to China in November, 2014, even as foreign-affairs officials in Beijing and Ottawa lobbied on the couple’s behalf.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang replied at the time that “we believe that judicial authorities in China should be able to handle cases in accordance with the law.”
Mr. Garratt’s lengthy detention without any formal charges being filed against him exceeded by far the normal Chinese statutes for processing suspects, although those statutes give local authorities broad discretion in state-security cases.
His indictment comes as the Trudeau government, in a major departure from China policy under the Harper government, said it wants to pursue a free-trade agreement that China has long sought. Mr. Trudeau is planning a high-level trip to China later this year. On Tuesday, he and Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, along with senior officials from Global Affairs Canada, attended a reception in Ottawa to mark the 45th anniversary of Sino-Canadian relations.
Pictures from the event show Mr. Trudeau smiling as Chinese Ambassador Luo Zhaohui showed photos from his father Pierre Trudeau’s visit with Mao Zedong in 1973.
It’s not clear what impact, if any, the indictment will have on current efforts toward a warmer relationship between the two countries. Despite cross-Pacific frictions under Conservative leadership, Liberal governments in Canada have a history of maintaining closer relations with Beijing.
“Clearly it’s a negative development if they are proceeding with an indictment,” said Gordon Houlden, a former diplomat who is now director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta.
“I have no indication whatsoever the Garratts, either one of them, have done anything wrong,” he said. But, he added, there are limitations to what Canadian diplomacy can achieve – particularly in China, which has taken a more assertive stance in international relations under President Xi Jinping.
In recent years, even entreaties by the White House have failed to win the release of U.S. citizens accused by China in state-secrets cases.
The Garratts’ detention is widely seen as reprisal for Canada’s arrest of Su Bin, a Chinese citizen wanted by the United States for allegedly playing a central role in the electronic theft of fighter-jet engineering documents. A Canadian court has ruled that the case against Mr. Su is strong enough to warrant his extradition to the United States; he has appealed.
The Globe and Mail reported last week that U.S. prosecutors believe Chinese military officers helped in the hacking. Last Friday, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry called those allegations groundless, saying “Chinese government agencies and military object to and never conduct any kind of network-hacking operation.”