The Guardian 13 July, 2005

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Cheap Royals and Chinese spies

They're a caution, these Royals, aren't they? Presumably conscious that Britons increasingly see them as a hugely expensive anachronism, the British government's chief paymaster wants to give them a new image.

This establishment clever-dick, who has the prosaic name Alan Reid and the archaic title Keeper of the Privy Purse, took the amount the British government pays the Royals for opening hospitals and parliament and attending Ascot and then divided it by the total number of people in Britain.

Why on Earth did he do that, I hear you ask? Because it produced a very small answer roughly 61 pence.

"You see!", was the triumphant cry of this Privy Purser, Britain has a "value-for-money monarchy" just 61 pence per person per year.

Put that way it does sound like a trifle, which is precisely why the good Mr Reid chose to put it that way. And what a clever dodge it is, too.

Think about it: old age pensioners, there as here, struggle on a miserable pittance from an ungrateful government (and even less grateful business establishment). But what OAP is going to whinge about a wretched 61p?

But tell them that one family, the Windsors, gets a government pension (tax free) of nearly 37 million quid (that's $86 million in our antipodean currency) and they would do a lot more than whinge.

And that's only the money the British government pays the Queen and her brood directly. There is also the huge income of the Duchy of Lancaster, the innumerable lurks and perks of being monarch (like being able to buy anything you like without having to pay for it) and of course the income from the judicious investment of all the wealth that British monarchs have diverted over the years from the British people.

No wonder the Royals refer to themselves as "the Firm".

The new Cold War?

For all the efforts of many capitalists to get a foot in the door of China's economic expansion, imperialism would still prefer to retard that expansion so that China does not succeed in becoming an economic rival.

Denying China access to the latest technology is part of that strategy (as it was previously with the USSR and the socialist states of Eastern Europe). Breaking through these strategic embargoes is an important task for China.

Many Chinese experts in various fields working and studying in the US, Europe and other parts of Asia would be willing to help their homeland acquire the expertise and technology that China needs and which the West is trying to withhold. That is only natural, and is a significant component of China's intelligence strategy in that field. It also acquires knowledge and know-how from its many overseas investments and joint projects with Western firms.

The major capitalist powers, on their part, are looking for ways to discredit and impede China's efforts to break this undeclared blockade. Have you noticed how quickly stories of Chinese "spies" mushroomed everywhere after the Chinese diplomat in Australia who didn't want to go home defected?

His job in Australia was mainly to keep an eye on the activities of the notoriously anti-communist cult Falun Gong. Nevertheless, he spiced his media conferences with emotional assertions of Chinese "agents" kidnapping people lots of people, apparently off the street.

Falun Gong's newspaper declared about a month ago that the members of the Communist Party of China were leaving the Party at the rate of a million a day. At that rate we can expect the government of socialist China to fall sometime this month but don't hold your breath!

On July 5, The Sydney Morning Herald (and presumably The Age) ran a Chinese spy story that is almost classic Cold War propaganda. It was a very carefully worded piece from London's Telegraph, headed "Chinese defector's spy claim".

Significantly, it was written in apparent expectation of being disproven: "A man claiming to be a Chinese agent is reported to have defected in Belgium and given the country's security service details of hundreds of Chinese spies working at various levels of industry".

What intelligence service lets one person have details of "hundreds" of agents? The story is datelined London, not Brussels, and largely consists of unnamed "experts" carrying on about the supposed "Chinese intelligence threat".

In fact, the British Telegraph article reads just like the kind of British intelligence "plant" that was popular in the British media during the Cold War. It quotes assorted usually unnamed intelligence agents: "Western intelligence officials", "Claude Monique, a Brussels-based intelligence analyst", "an intelligence official" and "a spokesman for the British security services".

The one I liked best was "a former British official who runs a private consultancy specialising in fraud and risk management in Beijing". Pardon? This is an expert on Chinese intelligence agents abroad?

The fourth-last paragraph of the Telegraph piece quoted "an intelligence official" listing the various types of "Chinese agents". The first category listed was the very one that everyone else agrees the Chinese simply do not use: "the pure intelligence agents based at embassies".

In fact, it is well known that, almost uniquely, no Chinese embassy official anywhere has ever been asked to leave a country because of "activities incompatible with their diplomatic status", as the euphemism goes.

It is in the next paragraph, however, that the evidence emerges that identifies the story as an intelligence plant, an early salvo in a new Cold War. "A spokesman for the British security services said Chinese spying already represented an intelligence challenge that mirrored the threat previously posed by Russian agents."

Especially if you are a Western intelligence agency anxious to boost your budget and your influence. I suspect we are going to hear a lot more about the Chinese "spy menace" as China builds its economic might.

Back to index page