From Beijing With Love

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When you write a novel that extrapolates current events to create fictional drama, there’s no greater satisfaction than seeing what you predicted actually come true in real life–unless, of course, you’re talking about space herpes or the zombie apocalypse, in which case everyone’s fortunes take a turn for the worse. With pretty much everything else, though, an author can’t help but say, “I told you so!” hopefully while doing a cable news or national radio hit.

So what’s got me so excited today? Well, how about this tidbit that just emerged from Axios?

Exclusive: Suspected Chinese spy targeted California politicians

A suspected Chinese intelligence operative developed extensive ties with local and national politicians, including a U.S. congressman, in what U.S. officials believe was a political intelligence operation run by China’s main civilian spy agency between 2011 and 2015.

The woman at the center of the operation, a Chinese national named Fang Fang or Christine Fang, targeted up-and-coming local politicians in the Bay Area and across the country who had the potential to make it big on the national stage.

Fang’s friends and acquaintances said she was in her late 20s or early 30s when she was based in the U.S. and was enrolled as a student at a Bay Area university. 

She used political gatherings, civic society conferences, campaign rallies, and campus events to connect with elected officials and other prominent figures, according to U.S. intelligence officials, Bay Area political operatives, former students, and current and former elected officials who knew her.

She also engaged in sexual or romantic relationships. . .according to one U.S. intelligence official and one former elected official.

Sounds like something straight out of a spy novel, doesn’t it? Well, as it turns out, a character much like Fang happens to be front and center in the mystery that drives my latest, CANDIDATE Z! Here’s a description of her modus operandi taken from the book:

“I’m guessing that trouble had a name,” Hunter said.  “Would it happen to be Veronica Tan?”

Gerard blinked up at her in surprise.

“You know about Ronnie?”

“Not much,” she admitted.  “But enough.”

“Wish I could say that,” Gerard sighed, sinking back into the couch.  He looked at the bottle of Patron again, but then thought better of it.  “First time I saw her was at a TED Talk, giving a lecture on internet freedom in China.  Talk about first impressions.”  His expression grew distant and sweet with the memory.  “The way she spoke, the way she moved—she had so much electricity, so much passion, you couldn’t look at anything else.”
Hunter remembered the picture of him and Tan standing next to each other, and how beautiful she was.  The woman must have been even more striking in person.

“She approached you after the speech, didn’t she?”

“Of all the guys in the room, right?” Gerard laughed bitterly.  “I should have known it was too good to be true—but Ronnie said she had heard about my work optimizing search algorithms for AI, and thought it could help dissident groups in China get around government censorship on the web.”  He shook his head in amazement.  “The girl was wicked smart.”

“And she liked you,” Hunter finished.

“Sure seemed that way,” Gerard lamented, ashamed at having ever believed it.  “At first it was dinner and drinks, talking about how we could make her ideas work in the digital space.  Then it snowballed into a full-blown side project, with us getting together almost every night to work on code and deployment scenarios.  I’ll admit that I gave her access to Friendle work product—but I was really careful to make sure it wasn’t anything proprietary.”

“You still ran a big risk,” Hunter pointed out.  “Did you at least run a background check before things got serious?”

“Of course I did.  Computer science degree from Stanford, NYU Juris Doctor—everything looked on the level.  Plus she’d been the public advocate for Unchain China for years, crusading against Confucius Institutes and really undermining Beijing’s efforts to infiltrate colleges all across the country.  She was total persona non grata with the regime—no red flags whatsoever.”

Of course, as it turns out, there’s a lot more to Veronica Tan than meets the eye–much like Christine Fang. And, also like Fang, she uses her smarts and her beauty to infiltrate the highest levels of power in both politics and Silicon Valley.

So what happened to Fang? Nobody knows–other than she disappeared after telling friends she needed to go back to China for a family emergency. In another instance of life imitating art, Veronica Tan also mysteriously disappears, which sets off a series of events that ultimately lead to the story’s explosive conclusion.

Kind of gives you chills, doesn’t it? 🙂

Of course, none of this comes as a surprise to those of us who have observed China over the years and the methodical way that they have penetrated the highest levels of government, media and culture in the United States–but I’ll admit that I never expected to create a character that was this close to the real thing! Anyway, if you’d like to see for yourself, can CANDIDATE Z a read–and be sure to leave a review to let me know what you think!

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