News that China’s ambassador to Iceland Ma Jisheng 马继生 and his wife Zhong Yue 钟月 have been detained under suspicion of spying for Japan, first released by Hong Kong and overseas Chinese media and then more or less censored on the Chinese Internet, have now got something just short of a confirmation, in the form of an editorial in China’s state-run most firebrand tabloid, the Global Times. Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei 洪磊 is still denying knowing anything about the case.
The spokesman and the disgraced ambassador surely know each other well: they used to be colleagues as vice-directors (副司长) of the Ministry’s information department. Ma Jisheng’s name should also be familiar to the foreign minister, Wang Yi 王毅, as the alleged leaks to Tokyo might well have occurred while Ma served there under Wang, then China’s envoy to Japan.
Such an indication that the spying went right under the current minister’s nose could have been just one more reason to remove Ma’s bio from his embassy’s website once Icelandic media had begun to worry about his absence. The Mas had not returned from their trip to China for Chinese New Year in late January, and Icelandic authorities were at some point notified he was away ‘for personal reasons’ and wasn’t going to come back.
Anyway, Ma’s bio is now up for everyone to read on the People’s Daily‘s website. This and the aforementioned editorial on the Global Times basically amounts to an official admission that the ‘personal reasons’ had less to do with a ‘sick relative‘ than with passing information to Japan, just in the middle of the latest anti-Japanese propaganda campaign.
Affectionately known as the Globule Times, the press organ that carried the editorial on Ma’s mischiefs has a reputation for printing the sort of nationalistic rhetoric more staid Party outlets like the People’s Daily usually tend to avoid. In its columns, Australian foreign minister Julia Bishop has been called a ‘complete fool‘; multiple countries have been warned to ‘prepare for the sound of cannons‘. The writing in its English version goes through the hands of a team of proofreaders, but these aren’t allowed to intervene too much into articles on sensitive topics. Language awkwardness can be taken as an indicator of how high a given article is coming from. The editorial on Ma (‘Be wary of espionage trap surrounding us’) closes thus:
If it is confirmed that Ma has been caught, we hope that his story will one day appear on media to serve as a warning for others.
Japanese media (Kyōdō through Mainichi) also report that another man who served with Ma in Tokyo is also missing since April and could also be under investigation on similar charges.