'Spooks' -- aka 'MI5' -- sparks diplomatic dispute

Beijing officials are so upset with the way BBC drama series “Spooks,” known as “MI-5″ in the U.S., depicts Chinese spies that they have reportedly told local media firms to stop cooperating with the pubcaster’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.

And the show doesn’t even air on the mainland.

It’s the latest diplomatic spat involving the BBC and China — the World Service’s Chinese-language broadcasts have long been blocked by Beijing.

In the skein’s last season, which finished its U.K. run Nov. 7, storylines have featured Chinese spies using various fictional dirty tricks. In one episode, Chinese operatives attempt to kidnap a scientist and threaten to detonate a bomb in London.

To Western sensibilities, these capers sound like workaday plots designed to entertain audiences.

The Chinese, however, are understood to have been offended by these fictional portrayals, especially as British Prime Minister David Cameron was in China last week to drum up business for U.K. companies.

A BBC Worldwide spokesman said it had not been contacted by the Chinese government and was requesting clarification.

But privately BBC execs have acknowledged that “Spooks” has caused offense.

BBC Worldwide has done business with Chinese webs for the past two decades. In August it bowed the first BBC Showcase China, a screening event held alongside the Beijing TV Festival.

Recently, it concluded a licensing agreement with online portal Sohu for a range of titles including “Oliver Twist,” “Jane Eyre” and “Planet Earth.”

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