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US warship sails by island claimed by China: Pentagon
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 30, 2016

China charges Canadian national with espionage: official
Beijing (AFP) Jan 29, 2016 - China has charged a Canadian citizen with spying and stealing state secrets, the government said Friday.

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

"The Canadian citizen Kevin Garratt, suspected of spying and stealing Chinese state secrets, has been indicted," Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, said at a regular briefing in Beijing.

"During the investigation, authorities found that Kevin Garratt may also be involved in gathering information for Canadian information agencies."

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

In 2013 he told a church in Surrey, British Columbia: "God said, in a prayer meeting, go to Dandong and I'll meet you there, and he said start a coffee house.

"We're trying to reach North Korea with God, with Jesus, and practical assistance."

Garratt's parents have said he was arrested because of his religion. China regularly cracks down on a wide variety of religious expression.

Beijing denied the case was religiously motivated.

"He was indicted because of spying and stealing Chinese state secrets, it has nothing to do with his religion," Hua said.

China's definition of state secrets can be very broad while North Korea is deeply suspicious of Christian proselytising activities, punishing them harshly.

The Garratts were detained one week after Canada accused China of hacking, prompting accusations that Beijing was investigating them as retaliation against Ottawa.

China passed a new "national security" law in July that was criticised by rights groups for the vague wording of its references to "security", which raised fears it could give police wide-ranging discretionary powers over civil society.

Other foreign citizens have also run afoul of China's powerful security officials.

Earlier this month Swedish activist Peter Dahlin was held on suspicion of endangering national security, apparently caught up in a crackdown on human rights lawyers. He was deported earlier this week.

Feng Xue, a Chinese-born US geologist, spent more than seven years in a Chinese prison after being convicted on state secrets charges.

Australian national Stern Hu, an executive with the mining giant Rio Tinto, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2010 on bribery and trade secrets charges.

A US warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of a disputed island in the South China Sea Saturday to assert freedom of navigation, drawing a protest from Beijing, officials said.

"We conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea earlier tonight," Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said in a statement.

Davis said the guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur made the "innocent passage" off Triton Island in the Paracel island chain, which is claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

No Chinese navy ships were in the area at the time the US destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of the tiny 1.2 square kilometer island, he said.

The operation was conducted "to challenge excessive maritime claims of parties that claim the Paracel Islands," Davis said.

While the United States takes no position on the various claims to the island, it does not recognize any claimant's right to its territorial waters.

Beijing quickly responded, saying the move violated Chinese law and urging the United States to maintain peace.

"The US warship, in violation of relevant Chinese laws, entered China's territorial waters without authorisation. The Chinese side has taken lawful surveillance, vocal warnings and other related measures," China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.

"We urge the US side to respect (and) abide by relevant Chinese laws, to do more things conducive to Sino-US mutual trust and regional peace and stability," the statement said.

China refers to the islands as the Xisha archipelago.

China claims virtually all of the South China Sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have partial claims.

China has asserted its claims by rapidly building artificial islands in another South China Sea island chain, the Spratlys, raising tensions in the region.

Port facilities, air strips and military buildings have gone up on the built-out islands, prompting US warnings that it would assert its rights to "fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows."

In October, the US Navy sent a guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of the Spratlys to press home the point.

Davis said Saturday's mission was conducted with no notice given to any of the countries laying claim to the Paracels.

"This operation challenged attempts by the three claimants -- China, Taiwan and Vietnam -- to restrict navigation rights and freedoms around the features they claim by policies that require prior permission or notification of transit within territorial seas," Davis said.

"The excessive claims regarding Triton Island are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention."

Davis added that while the United States takes no position on sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, "we do take a strong position on protecting the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all countries. All maritime claims must comply with international law."


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