Before he became National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ajit Doval as Director of VIF think-tank wrote a seminal paper published on July 3, 2013, titled “Chinese Intelligence: From a Party Outfit to Cyber Warriors.”
The paper highlights the Chinese intelligence agency Ministry of State Security’s (MSS) penetration into the Dalai Lama establishment in Dharamshala and supporting the anti-India North-East insurgent groups with the help of Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) when required, and keeping a close watch on Indian Army activities on the border with Tibet.
The paper concludes: “The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) over the years, has upgraded its intelligence capabilities at tactical, technological and strategic levels, particularly in Asia Pacific Region, South Asia, and Central Asia. The MSS has evolved itself as the premier foreign intelligence agency and besides diplomatic intelligence, it has been aggressively hunting for technological data and systems information to augment national economic and military capabilities. It continues to bank heavily on the Chinese global diaspora that provides it a vast catchment area for human assets for intelligence gathering and espionage. To widen its catchment area, it is expanding its illegal cover for intelligence gathering for using commercial companies and business houses, media agencies, Chinese banks, etc. The establishment of nearly 380 Confucius Institutes in 180 countries, Chinese language institutes, etc. also is part of its foreign intelligence activities. China envisions for itself a big power role and, silently but steadily, is building up its intelligence capabilities commensurate to that vision.”
While it is quite evident from the monograph that both the western worlds, Indo-Pacific and India knew about the penetration of Chinese intelligence, it was woken up from deep slumber after the PLA troopers in a planned action aggressively transgressed into the north banks of Pangong Tso followed by Galwan and Gogra-Hot Springs area of East Ladakh.
This week, an investigative report by The Australian spotlighted how loyal members of the Communist Party of China infiltrated western consulates and mega corporations masquerading as professionals. The 2016 leak of the Communist Party member database also reveals, as per The Australian, that newspaper editors and intellectuals act as influencers of the largest Communist Party in the world on social media and seminars.
Even though The Australian investigative report does not talk about India, India’s lead intelligence agency did caution the Cabinet Secretary and senior secretaries to the threat posed by Chinese intelligence in the government, particularly in departments of telecommunication, power, and higher education on July 15. The Indian agency’s presentation gave a broad overview of Chinese intelligence infiltration attempts into the government and the key pillars of democracy. The use of Chinese mobile applications for extracting data and the role of Confucius Institutes as an influencer along with embedding malware into power equipment was also highlighted. It was then decided that the government review the Confucius Institutes in the country and memorandums of understandings with countries sharing land borders with India should first get approvals from the ministry of external affairs and the ministry concerned. The action, five months later, is still a work in progress.
Ajit Doval, in his 2013 paper, wrote that in 2009, the University of Toronto’s Information Warfare Monitor Citizen published a “Ghost Net” report detailing intrusion by Chinese hackers into the network system of Indian Security Establishment and offices of Dalai Lama’s secretariat. The report was expectedly rejected by Beijing.
Although the Indian counterintelligence closely tracks Chinese activities, the reduction of Pakistan to a client state of the Middle Kingdom would have serious security repercussions for the sub-continent as Islamabad could become an important source of intelligence collection against India and the sub-continent with linguistic and cultural similarities. The appointment of officials belonging the Chinese United Front Work Department, which reports directly to the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party, as ambassadors to the Indian sub-continent presents a bigger security challenge. These ambassadors are ideologically committed workers of the Chinese Communist Party as opposed to Indian diplomats whose views on India and the world are not dictated by the political party in power.
Given the humongous financial resources of these embassies, Indian security agencies are already fighting a downhill battle against Beijing’s influence.
It is quite evident that the two iron brothers will exploit all Indian fault-lines, right from Kashmir, north-east insurgencies, Maoists to the economic disparity and religious fundamentalism, to destabilize India.
It is to the credit of Chinese pelf and power, that even though 1.6 million people have succumbed to coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan in November 2019, the international community finds it very hard to blame Beijing or demand reparations for the year lost.
With India standing up to the PLA aggression in East Ladakh and demanding that the status quo ante of April 2020 be restored, the Narendra Modi government needs to be battle-prepared for a dominant China.