Updated: January 8, 2022 8:29:21 am
Just when you thought that Chinese diplomacy was only about wolf warriors, border incursions and staring down neighbouring nations by renaming their villages, the Communist power wants the world to know it has a secret weapon — surprise, surprise, it’s humour. The Chinese state news agency Xinhua has released a four-minute James Bond spoof video, taking swipes at a recent speech by the chief of Britain’s secret intelligence service, MI6, where he declared that China was currently the spy agency’s topmost priority. The video, titled “No Time to Die Laughing”, features Agent 0.07 aka James Pond and special agent Black Window gossiping about how M, the MI6 head, has used paranoia about a “fictional Chinese debt trap” to secure a big budget for the agency.
It prompted the real MI6 chief to perk up on Twitter and thank the Xinhua handle for their interest and the “free publicity”. The world today, of course, has little resemblance to Ian Fleming novels. The MI6 chief is not M, a disembodied voice barking orders to spies. He is on Twitter, retweeting the Queen’s Christmas speech. In a world of misinformation and one-click transnational spyware like the Pegasus, the James Bond myth itself seems a relic from another time.
State-sponsored propaganda has become so dangerously effective that it can turn truths into lies with a click of a button, but one can’t say that about state-sponsored satire. Authoritarianism and hero-worship can decree many things into existence, but a perfect punchline isn’t one of them. The Xinhua spoof, for example, suffers from unfunny “shaken and stirred” jokes, an oddly spirited defence of Huawei phones and painful moments of canned laughter. The powerful Chinese state wants to snigger at its enemies — and not just scold them — but that might take more practice at soft power. The Chinese might want to consider a creative salvo: A film about a special agent from the People’s Republic of China seeding trouble in tottering democracies. But how to make it fun? Keep the state out of it.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on January 7, 2022 under the title ‘A spy for Beijing’.
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