Book Review: ‘Spies and Lies: How China’s Greatest Covert Operations Fooled the World’: Unmasking China’s Secret Intent

by EditorT

Alex Joske’s “Spies and Lies: How China’s Greatest Covert Operations Fooled the World” exposes the true nature of the CCP’s many worldwide operatives. (Hardie Grant Publishing)


I saw a recent interview with author Alex Joske and was immediately struck by his professional demeanor and his youth. Turns out he was the youngest-ever analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and is known for meticulous Chinese-language investigations grounded in authoritative and independently verifiable sources.

In other words, he does what he does well.

His research on Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence and intelligence efforts has withstood intense scrutiny. As a result, governments and policymakers globally pay attention when this well-versed and insightful scholar publishes his findings.

Epoch Times Photo

Author Alex Joske is the youngest-ever analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and is known for well-documented investigations into the Chinese Communist Party. (Hardie Grant Publishing)

Highly Respected Researcher

Representing the 8th District of Wisconsin, Congressman Mike Gallagher (R) serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as well as the House Armed Services Committee. Gallagher follows closely what the CCP is up to. He, among others, has given a strong shout out for Alex Joske’s “Spies and Lies: How China’s Greatest Covert Operations Fooled the World.”

“When Alex Joske speaks, governments need to listen,” Gallagher said.

Joske has made his mark by being ahead of the media and academic pack when it comes to unmasking the story behind the CCP’s intelligence and influence apparatus aboard.

Decades ago, Western governments were lulled into a false sense of security when it came to China. China appeared open to reform, eager to explore economic opportunities, exchange cultural ideas, and encourage business collaborations. Patient, China has been cleverly changing attitudes and becoming a master at the influence game.

Joske’s cutting-edge exposé takes readers through a myriad of Chinese ministries, many with seemingly innocent intentions, ultimately focusing on China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) and the true nature of its many worldwide operatives. It’s a deception game like no other.

In his book Joske peals back layers of secrecy revealing how CCP agents have spent nearly a half century manipulating Western leaders’ attitudes, not just of members of the U.S. Congress but businessmen, bankers, think tanks, the FBI, and cultural institutions. Not confined to looking at the United States, Joske, who lives in Canberra, includes an Australian prime minister in the ranks of those masterfully deceived.

A Net of Spies

Joske has garnered the respect and trust of many in his years of research into China’s covert world. His body of work includes interviews with defectors and intelligence officers, classified Chinese intelligence documents, as well as original investigations, in addition to unmasking scores of Chinese intelligent officers. The global MSS fronts run the gamut from travel agencies, writers’ associations, publishing houses, alumni associations, newspapers, Buddhist retreats, and numerous charities.

What quality is looked for most in recruiting Chinese agents? Joske quotes MSS Vice Minister Yu Fang (also known as Yu Enguang):

“We first look at their political qualities, meaning their beliefs and their belief in communism. What that means now is their loyalty to the Fatherland. This aspect is paramount: Their ideological character must be good.”

Joske goes on to cite three core traits for the Party’s spies that are detailed in an internal manual for MSS officers: “absolute loyalty to the Party,” a willingness to become a “nameless hero,” and, like the lotus of Buddhism, the ability to “rise through mud unsoiled.”

Chinese politician and government advisor Zheng Bijian (now 90) espoused theories of globalism and transparency that emphasized projecting soft power and peace. He coined the term “China’s peaceful rise” at a conference in 2003. It was a slogan that stuck in the minds and hearts of worldwide leaders for decades until its underlying intent was revealed. More sinister than sincere, it was actually a cynically created riposte meant to soothe any apprehensions towards China’s mounting power.

Readers will recognize many names known in political circles today, like George Soros, who in the early ’80s genuinely thought he was helping to build a civil society with his backing of the China Fund. He quickly discovered (admitting decades later) that managing foreign ideas was not for the faint of heart. At the time, there were few Chinese intellectual reformers. The MSS had their hands in his operation early on, quelling any chance of success.

Joske has no problems naming names, whether known Chinese spies or compromised politicians. His research is detailed and well annotated. His writing style is clear, concise, informative, and highly insightful. The MSS has grown considerably in the last decades, recently building a new spy school in the hills of Beijing, the Cold Spring Base.

For readers, this spy read is no James Bond thriller. “Spies and Lies” takes out the bad guys with direct hits, and it’s action packed and deadly, but the influence game is more sophisticated, and making it happen overnight is not a priority. It’s a spy game for sure but without all the glitzy gadgets perhaps, making it even more unsettling and impactful for its masterful subtlety and nuances–and the fact that it has been going on for so long seemingly undetected on a large scale.

For many, it will undoubtedly be an indispensable read.

‘Spies and Lies: How China’s Greatest Covert Operations Fooled the World’
By Alex Joske
Hardie Grant Publishing, Oct. 11, 2022
Paperback: 272 pages


Anita L. Sherman

Anita L. Sherman is an award-winning journalist who has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for local papers and regional publications in Virginia. She now works as a freelance writer and is working on her first novel. She is the mother of three grown children and grandmother to four, and she resides in Warrenton, Virginia, USA.

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