Dandong: China is investigating a Canadian couple who ran a coffee shop on the Chinese border with North Korea for suspected theft of military and intelligence information and for threatening national security, China's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
The official Xinhua news agency identified the two as Kevin Garratt and Julia Dawn Garratt. In a brief report, Xinhua said the State Security Bureau of Dandong city in northeast Liaoning province was investigating the case, adding it involved the stealing of state secrets.
Neither the Foreign Ministry nor Xinhua said if the couple had been detained, although the ministry said the Canadian embassy in Beijing was notified on Monday and that the couple's "various rights have been fully guaranteed".
Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper said the Vancouver couple had been living in China since 1984 and had opened a coffee shop called Peter's Coffee House in Dandong, a key gateway to reclusive North Korea, in 2008. The couple previously worked as teachers in southern China.
It said the whereabouts of the Garratts was unknown. Calls to the coffee shop went unanswered. A family friend said the Garratts had three children.
"Kevin Garratt and his wife ... are suspected of collecting and stealing intelligence materials related to Chinese military targets and important Chinese national defence scientific research programs, and engaging in activities that endanger China's national security," the Foreign Ministry said in a short statement.
The Canadian embassy said it was aware of reports that two Canadians had been detained in China and was gathering information on the matter. The investigation into the Garratts comes a week after Canada took the unusual step of singling out Chinese hackers for attacking a key computer network and lodged a protest with Beijing.
Canadian officials have said "a highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor" broke into the National Research Council, the government's leading research body, which works with big companies such as aircraft and train maker Bombardier Inc.. In response, Beijing accused Canada of making irresponsible accusations that lacked credible evidence.
China's state secrets law is notoriously broad, covering everything from industry data to the exact birth dates of state leaders. Information can also be labelled a state secret retroactively.