“He’d never liked being up against the Chinese. There were too many of them. Station H might be stirring up a hornets’ next, but M had decided it was time to show the opposition that the service in Hongkong [sic] hadn’t quite gone out of business.”
James Bond, the fictional defender of the free world, long had an engagement with East Asia. The warning about China comes from the novel Goldfinger.
Ian Fleming himself visited Japan. The action in his novel You Only Live Twice (1964) is set in the country, of which he offers a positive account.
The film of the same title, released in 1967, was also set in Japan. Although the plot was very different, the account of Japan, and notably of its secret service, is very positive.
Blofeld, the villainous head of Spectre, controls Osato Chemicals, but is being supplied with rocketry by China, which is paying to cause war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
By Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), China is threatened alongside Britain by the villain, and by Die Another Day (2002), the source of villainy is not China but North Korea and its expansionism.
And so to today. Does the world need a new James Bond? Well, yes, it certainly does, and not just one. There are a range of sinister and deadly ideologies, leaders, and conspiracies.
The relatively benign cooperation between the West and China that helped restrain the Soviet Union and its allies in the 1970s and 1980s, was replaced, partly due to American hubris in the 1990s and early 2000s, by a reconciliation between Russia and China. This created a new alignment that made each more threatening: China in East Asia and Russia in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
The situation returns us to the world of James Bond. Cold War rivalries create opportunities for other sinister elements. Today, that’s notably North Korea, and also Iran, as well as a range of non-state-actors. Moreover, the threat of nuclear conflagration is again part of the repertoire of international confrontation.
Yes, we need lots of Bonds. Signals intelligence can provide us with information on the plans of hostile elements, but there is a need for special agents able on the ground to act not only as sources of intelligence but also as active participants in the struggle against “hostiles.”
There cannot be a clear distinction between secret agents and special forces, for the modern situation of “hybrid warfare” is all-too-present in the doctrine and organization of opponents. Indeed, the structures and beliefs of the Free World appear outdated. It was as if, having won the Cold War by a set of accidental developments in the Soviet bloc from 1989 to 1992, we have forgotten the needs it exemplified for continual vigilance and for a willingness to fight force with force.
The Fleming novels capture this better than the escapism of the films. Nevertheless, both convey an atmosphere of threat. This threat is from alien ideologies rather than the governments of the Free World, which serve as the source of villainy in the paranoias of the Left. A need for vigilance is a facet of every society that wishes to preserve its freedoms. This need is very apparent today.
Jeremy Black is Professor of History at Exeter University. He is a prolific lecturer and writer, the author of over 100 books. Many concern aspects of eighteenth century British, European and American political, diplomatic and military history but he has also published on the history of the press, cartography, warfare, culture and on the nature and uses of history itself. He is author of The World of James Bond. The Lives and Times of 007 (Rowman and Littlefield, 2017).