(AFP) – Britain’s spy chief on Thursday thanked China’s state news agency for “free publicity” after it posted a spoof of James Bond that mocked the Western intelligence community’s growing focus on threats posed by Beijing.
The rare response by MI6 head Richard Moore comes as China and Britain clash over Beijing’s treatment of its Uyghur minority and creeping authoritarianism in the former British colony of Hong Kong.
Moore — codenamed “C” within the agency — previously said adapting to China’s rise was the spy service’s “single greatest priority” and warned of Chinese “debt traps, data exposure and vulnerability to political coercion”.
Debt traps refer to China extracting concessions such as the use of ports from countries that sign up to its soft-power infrastructure initiative when they default on loan repayments.
In a tongue-in-cheek Twitter post on Tuesday, state news agency Xinhua said it had uncovered “leaked video” of a “secret meeting” between British and American spies after Moore bumped Beijing higher on MI6’s agenda.
The attached clip — titled “No Time to Die Laughing” — featured a pair of Chinese actors playing fictional British spies called “James Pond” and “Black Window”.
In his Thursday response, Moore tweeted: “Thank you for your interest (and the unexpected free publicity!)”
He posted a link to a speech he gave in November in which he said China sought to “exploit the open nature” of British society and “distort public discourse and political decision making across the globe”.
In four and a half minutes of what Xinhua called “rib-tickling moments” filled with canned laughter, the elegantly dressed duo enter a castle and start discussing a dossier on Chinese espionage tactics, only to realise the papers actually refer to the United States.
Pond — codenamed “Agent 0.07” — then blasts the “fictional Chinese debt trap and data trap” as a “pathetic” excuse to get more funding for British intelligence.
In a call with an apparent CIA operative, Pond learns the US has tapped his mobile phone.
He is warned not to buy a model made by sanctioned Chinese company Huawei due to a supposed “backdoor”, before being gifted a new phone by the CIA.
“To be America’s enemy is dangerous,” says the champagne-swilling Pond. “But to be America’s friend is fatal.”
Britain caused outrage in China last year after blocking the involvement of telecoms giant Huawei from involvement in its 5G broadband roll-out, after the US raised spying concerns.