Explained: How And Why China Has Been Closely Monitoring Prominent Indians, From PM To Military Officers

by Swarajya Staff - Sep 14, 2020 05:32 PM +05:30 IST
Explained: How And Why China Has Been Closely Monitoring Prominent Indians, From PM To Military OfficersA Chinese flag
  • The most worrying part is that the company was monitoring President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as key Opposition figures such as Sonia Gandhi.

An investigation by the Indian Express has revealed that a Chinese company named Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co, with links to the Chinese Communist Party and its intelligence apparatus, has been closely monitoring prominent Indians.

Who was this Chinese company monitoring?

The company was monitoring over 10,000 individuals in India from fields such as politics, military, government, bureaucracy, judiciary and business.

On its watch list were people such as Ministers including Nirmala Sitharaman and Smriti Irani, at least 350 current and former Parliamentarians, prominent politicians, and serving Chief Ministers, including Mamata Banerjee and Uddhav Thackeray.

The most worrying part is that the company was monitoring President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the head of the state and Government of India, respectively, and key Opposition figures such as Sonia Gandhi.

The Chinese firm was also keeping an eye on Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat and around 60 senior serving and retired officers of the military including at least 14 former chiefs, and scientists from the Atomic Energy Commission to Indian Space Research Organisation, raising serious questions related to national security.

Former chiefs of Research and Analysis Wing (India’s external intelligence agency), Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Indian Coast Guard were also on the list.

What information did it collect?

Zhenhua Data recorded the digital footprint of these individuals across social media platforms, and monitored their activities using “papers, patents, bidding documents, even positions of recruitment”, the report says.

It collected granular personal information on the target, watched their relationships and followed their movements such as geographic location through Artificial Intelligence tools, among other things, the daily’s report says.

It maintained a “relationship database”, which recorded the links between individuals, institutions, and information being targeted.

Why was it collecting this information?

The company was using the information it collected on these individuals through close monitoring to build a massive database.

Zhenhua Data’s close ties with the Chinese Communist Party suggests that all this granular information was being collected for use by the party’s intelligence agencies for what even the company identifies as “hybrid warfare”.

Such information is used by domestic intelligence agencies in many countries to monitor and prevent crimes and other illegal activities.

With privacy becoming a major issue, most agencies in the democratic world collect and use this data with legal sanction from their governments and judiciaries.

However, the most critical thing a foreign intelligence agency can use this data for is subversion.

If incriminating, the data collected by the company can be used to compromise individuals in places of power, such as the bureaucracy and the military.

Given how the Chinese Communist Party and its affiliates operate, such use of data collected by the company can’t be ruled out.

The part and its military force — the People’s Liberation Army — have been using hybrid warfare to gain an edge over their adversaries. It has not only used it for military advantage, but also in the fields of trade and business.

Australia is one of the countries where the Chinese Communist Party has used hybrid warfare for political and military coercion in the past and has been successful in it.

What do we know about this company?

Apart from the fact that it works for Chinese intelligence, it is known that the owner of the company is Wang Xuefeng. Believed to be a former IBM engineer, Wang is an expert in artificial intelligence and holds around 86 per cent stakes in the company.

Zhenhua Data has been operating since 2018, and has at least 20 overseas data processing units.

It has under 50 employees in China.

Many entities, linked to the Chinese government, such as the Ministry of Industry and IT and the Academy of Science, are some of its key partners.

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