Monday, June 04, 2012

The League Of Incurious Stenographers

Journalism is a profession, or at least it should be.

This Kyodo news report declares it to be a profession in peril:
Experts scoff at allegations of spying by diplomat Li

BEIJING/TOKYO — Some people in diplomatic and intelligence circles are skeptical about the spying allegations leveled against Li Chunguang, a diplomat at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo who fled Japan last month after rejecting a request to be questioned by the Japanese police.

The Metropolitan Police Department's Public Security Bureau handed over information on Li, a 45-year-old first secretary at the Chinese Embassy, to prosecutors for potential prosecution action on May 31, on suspicion that Li used a false identity to renew his alien registration card.

The prosecutors appear likely to decide against indictment in the absence of the diplomat, who left on May 23.

"Although we did need to question him, if we could (the request was turned down), so we decided to send the case to prosecutors after nearly completing the investigation," a bureau official said.

Initially, police and some media outlets speculated that Li was involved in espionage. A newspaper said the first secretary is suspected of having obtained information from classified documents leaked from the farm ministry about a project to promote exports of Japanese produce to China.

The public security investigation bureau had been following Li, who is thought to have belonged to an intelligence unit within the People's Liberation Army, since he was posted to Japan in July 2007 as an economic affairs officer.

On May 31, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano said he met the diplomat five times and denied that he or any other farm ministry officials passed classified documents to him.

According to a friend of Li, since returning to Beijing the former first secretary has been fuming about media reports about his alleged spying and reportedly said he never wants to visit Japan again.

The Chinese Embassy in Tokyo said he left Japan because his stint abroad was up. Li's departure in late May came after nearly five years in Japan — which is typical for many embassy officials.

Ahead of that, Li is also said to have consulted with friends about job opportunities after returning from Japan and inquiring about whether there were any good posts with a government organization relating to economic affairs.

Japan's police suspect he renewed his alien card to open many bank accounts to receive "advisory" fees from Japanese firms.

However, people in diplomatic and intelligence circles say a professional spy typically pays for classified information.

"The Metropolitan Police Department tracked him for five years and came up only with the problem with an alien registration card," said an intelligence expert who worked in China. "What's more, evidence shows the first secretary has only received payments when he should have been paying for information."

"It's more than obvious that a fraudulent renewal of an alien registration card will easily be spotted if one does it using his real name," the expert added. "A pro would never do such a thing."

After the latest case, experts say Japan is "too open" when it comes to data held by the government, while China keeps a strict watch via law-enforcement and other government units.

In May 2009, a ranking official of China's Xinhua news agency was sentenced to 18 years in prison for spying and other charges.

The ruling said he was punished for receiving around 207,000 yuan, which was worth around ¥2.5 million at current exchange rates, in cash from then Japanese Ambassador Yuji Miyamoto in return for secret data on North Korea and other matters.

But the "secret" information was said to be about matters already in the public domain.

Unlike China, where even trivial data may be classified, Japan doesn't have strict laws on guarding confidential information. As a result, Chinese spies may view Japan as a sort of heaven where classified data can be obtained legally.

On Li's case, a Japanese police official suggested that the attempt to call him in for questioning was intended to remove someone they suspected of spying. "If we had let him go home without taking any action, he could come back again as a diplomat."

Atsuyuki Sassa, who was head of foreign affairs at the National Police Agency, said, "Requesting his appearance for questioning was perhaps the best they could do, but it certainly had the effect of checking (Chinese moves)."

How quickly we move from "experts" to "some people." The only "expert" named who supports the thesis is an anonymous individual whom we are told has expertise in China.

As for the article itself, it begins in one place, decides to tackle the subject, misses, lolls about regaling us with tales of yesteryear and ends up quoting a single security expert, Sassa Atsuyuki, whose thesis is the exact opposite of the one the article attempts to promote.

"So journalists on deadline on the weekend write crap. So what?"

Wrong! This is what Kyodo is reduced to releasing now that police informants, realizing what a complete disaster the Li case has become, are now either shutting their mouths or pointing reporters into speculating that perhaps Li was not a spy, after all.

Not that the screw up has been all bad for the NPA. As Shingetsu News notes, the Li case is not being used as a lever to pry an espionage bill out of the Diet -- which would be a neat way to play both sides of an issue ("He's a spy; we need a law. He's not a spy; we still need a law!") if the public is lulled into paying no further attention to the machinations of the security apparat.

That both the Japanese and the Chinese government are lying about the Li case is obvious.

Can you imagine how ticked off the career diplomats of the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be if the story the Chinese government has been shopping around turned out to be true, that the #4 position in the embassy -- in the Economics Division, no less, where the misplacing of a single comma in a bilateral agreement could cost the country billions of yuan -- was handed off to some academic wanderer with loads of Japan experience?

Something big and bad happened here. Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Kano Michihiko, who gave crucial support to Prime Minister Noda in August of last year when Noda was running for the position of party president, will today lose his ministerial post, the prize which he had extorted from Noda in return for his support, because of what may have been the most innocent and perfunctory of contacts with Li.

The government is trying to bury this and bury this fast.

* I generally forego quoting whole articles. However, this one is so bad it is likely to disappear quickly into the ether, after having emerged from the muck.


jd said...

A very strange story, none of which seems to make complete sense. As is mentioned, if he was a spy, he should have been paying for information rather than receiving money. Interestingly the only part that sounds like spying is "The ruling said he was punished for receiving around 207,000 yuan, which was worth around ¥2.5 million at current exchange rates, in cash from then Japanese Ambassador Yuji Miyamoto in return for secret data on North Korea and other matters. " Does this mean Japan is/was spying in China?

Anonymous said...

#4 position at the Embassy his was not. While the title of First Secretary is #4 (or actually #5 if you count Minister Counsellors)in the diplomatic hierarchy, at a big Embassy like this there will be many Counsellerors, and probably also Ministers or Minister Counsellors above him, in addition to lots of other First Secretaries. A First Secretary is in practice a diplomat of pretty minor importance (I've been one), especially at big embassies. He might have been a spy, but it seems a pretty unprofessional one.