My Take

I spy a rush of Chinese espionage shows

Cold war dramas may be popular with North American TV audiences but they are nothing when it comes to what is going on in the real world

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 September, 2017, 1:04am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 September, 2017, 2:12am

Fiction and television have yet to catch up with reality when it comes to contemporary spy craft.

North American audiences are still engrossed by such cold war nostalgic entertainment as The Americans, a hit series about an ordinary US couple who are actually deep cover KGB officers operating in Washington during the Reagan era; and Deutschland 83, an unexpected German TV success about a West German military attaché who is a spy for the Stasi, the East German secret police.

But major news stories about spying, whether alleged or real, in the English-speaking world nowadays are far more engrossing, and often involve China; you just have to read between the lines. It seems that’s where the action is, though creative writers, whether Chinese or English-speaking, have yet to rise to the challenge and come up with a high-quality big hit.

According to the latest news reports, New Zealand’s national intelligence agency has been looking into the activities of a mainland-born member of parliament and big-time fundraiser for the governing National Party.

There have been complaints that Jian Yang has not fully disclosed his background for having studied or taught at some of China’s top state institutions including a language-training school for security and intelligence officers, The New Zealand Herald reported.

New Zealand politician says he taught Chinese spies but loyal to new home

In the past few months, Australian news media have been filled with stories about behind-the-scenes Chinese influence within the highest business and political circles. Though usually unnamed, it seems fairly obvious that the country’s intelligence service has sanctioned the news sources behind those stories.

In 2010, Canada’s top spymaster publicly warned against “agents of influence” from unnamed foreign countries.

In the past few years, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has shown an interest in Ontario cabinet minister Michael Chan, leading to hostilities between the agency and the Ontario government.

Chan has never been accused of any wrongdoing but is sometimes criticised for being too sympathetic to China’s trade and foreign policies.

Such people may well be the victims of racism, anti-Chinese sentiments and/or outright paranoia and witch-hunts. In any case, countries spy on each other, sometimes even on allies. So Western governments can hardly jump on their high horse and claim innocence.

Still, the day is probably not far off with high-quality productions about Chinese spy craft. I can already imagine the titles: The Chinese and Middle Kingdom 2017.