The revelation that a Shenzhen-based Chinese technology company called Zhenhua Data Information Technology is monitoring over 10,000 Indian individuals and organisations, at a time when India and China are engaged in an intense border standoff, is worrying. The company has been monitoring an exhaustive list of targets including President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, opposition political leaders, judges, journalists, bureaucrats, industry captains, scientists and even those accused of serious crimes. What’s more, the data gathering extends to family members too.
Zhenhua Data openly professes to be using big data for “hybrid warfare” and counts the Chinese government and military among its clients.
China has a clear doctrine on hybrid warfare and views data mining as an opportunity to obtain leverage. The massive data being mined of Indian targets provide Chinese strategists with a wealth of information that can be used for subversion, information pollution and dominance. Carefully planted Chinese bots could then manipulate public mood in India, sow chaos and undermine internal security. In that sense, the Chinese could win a war against us without even firing a bullet. This is why deep penetration of the Indian market by Chinese tech companies must be forcefully resisted.
In fact, China’s National Intelligence Law mandates and incentivises private companies to work with Chinese intelligence agencies. Therefore, no Chinese company can be trusted with Indian data. The government must rule out participation of any Chinese company including Huawei in India’s 5G infrastructure. Also, reverse the amendment to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act that exempted political parties from scrutiny of their foreign funding. Beijing could use the amendment to subvert Indian policies from within. Most democracies don’t permit foreign funding of parties. India can least afford this, with China at the door. New Delhi must prepare multidimensional defences to counter China’s hybrid tactics.