And Finally

Spoofing the spooks

Xinhua’s skit strikes back at comments from Britain’s top spy at MI6


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Richard Moore, the head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service (MI6) isn’t the most prolific of Tweeters. But when Chinese state news agency Xinhua made a James Bond-style video to lampoon a speech of Moore’s last week, he ‘clapped’ back, thanking them for the “free publicity”.

Called No Time to Die Laughing – a pun on the most recent 007 movie title – the sketch mocked Moore’s claim that China is now “the single biggest priority for MI6”. Xinhua thought differently, painting Britain’s longstanding ally the US as a much greater threat to its future.

“Good grief that’s not China we are talking about. That’s America!!!” exclaims one of the fictional agents after muddling up the case files on overseas espionage in the UK.

The high-budget Xinhua sketch is premised on two British agents – played by Chinese actors attempting their best English accents – meeting at a castle somewhere in the UK to call their CIA liaison officer. Throughout the four-minute clip the characters – named James Pond and Black Window – use lines from Moore’s November speech, such as MI6’s new slogan to “be open to stay secret”.

Posting the clip on Twitter on January 4, Xinhua promised “rib-tickling moments” and tagged the content to Moore’s social media handle and the official CIA account.

Moore, who is known by the initial “C” inside MI6, had warned that the Chinese continue “to conduct large scale espionage operations against the UK and our allies” and that Beijing increasingly favours “bold and decisive action justified on national security grounds”.

But Xinhua’s decision to lampoon the largely unnoticed speech probably stemmed most from his critical assertions about China. “Beijing believes its own propaganda about Western frailties and underestimates Washington’s resolve,” he had cautioned, in what was seen by many as a reference to tensions over Taiwan.

Despite looking expensive to make, the spoof doesn’t hit the mark in satirical terms. At the start of the skit, for instance, the action opens with some repartee in which agent 0.06 (Black Window) asks why agent 0.07 (Pond) owns no shares or bonds, to which he replies: “Because a super-spy always prefers to remain low-key”. That zinger pretty much sums up the quality of the comic material on offer (admittedly humour has never been a Xinhua core strength).

More in Xinhua’s comfort zone Pond and Black Window break character to deliver mini speeches about how unfairly Chinese telecom giant Huawei has been treated and how MI6 has exaggerated the China threat just to get more funding for its operation.“You know what’s pathetic? Using a fictional debt trap and data trap to secure our massive budget for next year,” agent Pond declaims at one point (to canned laughter).

However, the skit was even less of a laughing matter for Britain’s domestic security service MI5, following its warning on Thursday to members of the UK parliament about a woman named Christine Ching Kui Lee. According to the BBC she has allegedly been working for the Chinese government to “covertly interfere in UK politics”. Lee, a British national and active donor to UK members of parliament, had previously received an award from former British prime minister Theresa May for her contribution to good relations with China. The Chinese embassy denied the allegations, saying it had “no need” to “buy influence” in any foreign parliament.

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