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US 'surprised' at Chinese influence-buying in Australia
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) Sept 14, 2016

China releases alleged Canadian spy
Montreal (AFP) Sept 15 - A Canadian man arrested in China two years ago on charges of spying and stealing state secrets has been freed and is back home in Canada, his family said Thursday.

Kevin Garratt was detained in 2014 along with his wife, Julia Dawn, who was later released on bail, in the northeastern Chinese city of Dandong, on the border with North Korea.

Before their arrests, Garratt and his wife, both Christians, had run a coffee shop in Dandong and were active in helping send humanitarian aid to impoverished North Korea.

Garratt was deported from China on Thursday after a court in Dandong ruled on his case on Tuesday, his family said in a statement.

"Kevin... has returned to Canada to be with his family and friends," the family said.

"The Garratt family thanks everyone for their thoughts and prayers, and also thanks the many individuals who worked to secure Kevin's release."

The family asked for respect of its privacy "in this time of transition," saying it would release more information in the coming weeks.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed Garratt home, praising his family's "grace and resilience," especially that of Kevin and his wife.

"We are delighted that Kevin Garratt has returned safely to Canada and is with his family once more," Trudeau said in a statement.

"The government of Canada has been seized of this case at the highest levels," he added. "We want to thank consular officials who work behind the scenes every day in support of Canadians abroad."

The detention had raised tensions between the two countries.

The Garratts were arrested a week after Canada accused China of hacking, prompting accusations that Beijing was investigating them in retaliation.

A number of Christian organizations -- especially South Korean -- in Dandong are actively assisting North Korean refugees who have illegally crossed the border.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to visit Cuba: officials
Beijing (AFP) Sept 14 - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is to travel to Cuba to shore up relations with one of the world's few other remaining Communist states, officials said Wednesday, months after US President Barack Obama visited the Caribbean island.

Li will visit Cuba to discuss "how to further deepen bilateral relations and traditional friendship", said vice minister of foreign affairs Wang Chao.

Li's visit will be the first by a Chinese premier since the two countries established diplomatic relations 56 years ago, he added, although President Xi Jinping visited the island in 2014.

It comes after Obama's historic three-day visit to Cuba in March -- the first by a sitting US president since 1959.

On Monday, the US and Cuba held talks in Washington on bilateral economic issues for the first time since diplomatic relations were restored between the two in July 2015.

Wang insisted that China did not see their normalising of relations as a threat.

"We believe that to strengthen economic cooperation with Cuba will not only benefit Cuba's development, but also benefit Cuba's cooperation with other countries and the growth of the global economy," he said, noting that China would benefit from such growth as well.

The distance between China and Cuba was a disadvantage, Wang acknowledged, but said the US rapprochement would not make China any less attractive to Cuba economically.

"We have strong mutual trust between our two countries," he said.

Before Cuba, Li will pay an official visit to Canada, only two weeks after its Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited China and Ottawa announced it would apply to join the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The US envoy to Canberra has raised concerns about China buying political influence in Australia, after a raft of revelations over Beijing's financial support for influential figures.

Political donations from foreign sources have become a highly sensitive issue in Australia, which last week saw the resignation of a leading opposition senator after he admitted taking payments to cover expenses.

"We have been surprised, quite frankly, at the extent of the involvement of the Chinese government in Australian politics," departing US ambassador John Berry said in The Australian newspaper on Wednesday.

"It is an entirely different matter when the government of China is able to directly funnel funds to political candidates to advance their national interests in your national campaign," Berry said.

"That, to us, is of concern. We cannot conceive of a case where a foreign donation from any government, friend or foe, would be considered legitimate in terms of that democracy."

Foreign donations are illegal in the United States, Australia's closest ally, and Berry urged Canberra to clean up.

"Our hope is that, in resolving this, Australia will consider doing what many other democracies have done: that is to protect their core responsibility against undue influence from governments that don't share our values."

The opposition Labor Party -- reeling from Senator Sam Dastyari's sudden downfall after a donor with links to the Chinese government paid for one of his expenses bills -- has proposed a ban on foreign donations in election campaigning.

Dastyari, a high-profile powerbroker, had also reportedly contradicted Labor and government policy on the South China Sea.

However Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Liberal Party has also received large donations from Chinese firms and individuals, often with links to the Beijing government, and has shown little appetite for a ban.

"Look, Australia is a sovereign nation, but I can see no argument of how a foreign government's involvement through political contributions advances Australia's interests," the envoy said.

"In our country it's illegal. It would be against the law for any foreign donation to be accepted by any level of government or member of government."

China's rise and its sweeping claims to the South China Sea have seen a dramatic sharpening of Sino-US rivalry.

Australia has also become increasingly concerned about the purchase of domestic infrastructure and land by foreigners, and recently banned a sale by the country's biggest private landowner to a Chinese-led consortium.

However, the government's first foreign land register last week showed that British and US investors own far more agricultural land in Australia than Chinese nationals do.

Abe's Chinese calligraphy wins plaudits in China
Beijing (AFP) Sept 14, 2016 - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earned unusual praise from Chinese netizens Wednesday -- but for the quality of his calligraphy, rather than his diplomacy.

Beijing and Tokyo are at loggerheads over disputed islands and wartime history, and Abe has raised hackles with his criticism of his neighbour's assertiveness in the South China Sea.

But the Japanese leader was lauded after he purportedly left a hand-written note in Chinese thanking a cleaner at the hotel he stayed in for the G20 summit in Hangzhou last week.

It gave Abe's name, title and the date, adding: "Thanks".

It was posted on China's Twitter-like Weibo last week by a journalist who founded what is said to be Japan's largest Chinese-language news website, and had been reposted more than 700 times by Wednesday.

"His characters are good-looking," wrote one poster.

Another appreciated his attention to detail, saying "This small gesture shows the nation's breeding", and adding the country was "formidable" and worthy of respect.

A spokesman at Abe's office could not confirm the authenticity of the note, but said that he had stayed at the Sheraton Grand hotel, on whose notepaper it was written.

The reaction is a contrast to how Abe is often portrayed by Chinese media and online, where an army of posters regularly comment in praise of Beijing's Communist government.

Abe has regularly been blasted by state-run Chinese media for his impenitent comments on Japan's wartime history and its invasion of China, publicly questioning claims that the Japanese military systematically compelled women to become sex workers.

In 2013 he visited Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honours the country's war dead including several high-level officials executed for war crimes after World War II.

The two countries are locked in a long-running dispute over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, and Abe has vocally criticised China for rejecting a July ruling by an international tribunal invalidating its extensive claims to the South China Sea.

"Does he know that he is nearly scolded to death by Chinese people?" wrote one poster, adding "this behaviour can by no means draw any verbal abuse".

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