Indian spies had warned top decisionmakers about growing Chinese footprints in India and emerging threats at the border, according to a new book by investigative journalist Yatish Yadav. The book reveals the Chinese military is using academics, scholars, businessmen, professionals and even journalists to mount intelligence operations in India.
The warnings came after the 73-day-long Doklam standoff between India and China in 2017 and also dwelled on the boundary issues, China’s sinister expansionist policy and the efforts to protect India's sovereignty from the incidents like the recent bloody clash between troops of the two countries at Galwan valley on June 15.
The book RAW: A History of India’s Covert Operations, published by Westland Publications and released earlier this month, provides an inside look at India’s external spy agency’s mission of hunting adversaries and neutralising threats to national security. The vivid account on China reveals that the top echelon in the corridors of power were informed in a January 2018 meeting that India needs to brace for aggressive operations from China, especially in the light of China’s geopolitical ambition to become the preeminent power in Asia and a global power by 2050 and its ambitious projects, such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Citing exclusive access, the book claims there are several contentious issues between the two nations that the R&AW is particularly worried about and it was reflected in the presentation in the meeting. The presentation, Yadav wrote, focused on the unresolved issue of the delineation of the India-China boundary area, lack of progress in clarifying the Line of Actual Control (LAC), China’s concern about the presence of the Dalai Lama in India and India’s concerns regarding a post-Dalai Lama scenario. The spies were of the view that all these issues remain a headache for Indian decisionmakers.
The spies, present in the meeting, were also worried about Chinese support to certain northeast groups, increased Chinese interests in the Indian Ocean Region, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC, a part of BRI) that passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the encirclement of India through China’s string of pearls project and growing Chinese influence in India’s neighbourhood, especially in Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
In the book, Yadav describes an undeniable fact that China is the most active nation in the world with regard to cyber espionage, with formidable capabilities aimed at economic sabotage. The book alleges two other modus operandi adopted by China are to exploit business and cultural exchanges to harvest intelligence in India.
“In fact, the government’s top decisionmakers were given a list of institutes that are suspected of being used by China to gather intelligence in India. A classified note was also given to top officials about a Chinese institute planning to open branches in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. China also exploits the legitimate cover of business in sectors like telecom, engineering and manufacturing,” Yadav wrote, painting the most intense portrait of the closed-door meeting between spies and the top decisionmakers of the country.
A seasoned spy quoted in the book said, “China is replicating the espionage method of using soft power under the cover of legitimate activities, which had earlier been patented by the US and Russia. The Chinese are using academics, scholars, businessmen, professionals and even journalists to mount INT gathering operations in India.”
Yadav wrote that the counterintelligence team in recent years has noticed that Chinese firms have emerged as the lowest bidders in many infrastructure projects in India, with the active support of the Chinese government. Such Chinese footprints are increasingly being noticed in states like Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Haryana. They are also targeting strategic locations. For example, a Chinese business delegation went to Betul Island in Goa, near INS Kadamba. Espionage threats are also emanating from non-Chinese firms, which employ Chinese persons as happened with the Dhamara Port Company in Odisha, which is strategically located near Dr Abdul Kalam Island, earlier known as 'Wheeler Island', which is a missile test facility.
The book claims since that meeting, the government has begun examining business proposals from Chinese companies from the espionage angle. However, the threats have not disappeared.
For Indian spymasters, countering China, which has forged a deep nexus with Pakistan, is a formidable task. It is obvious that countries must spy on each other to remain a step ahead. China has mastered that art. The Indian spy agency believes China is terrified by India’s growing clout in Asia and always willing to engineer clumsy provocations.
Yadav wrote that the Chinese expansionist policy now ensures that India will be riddled with more spies and one warning, which will be acted upon in the coming years, is increasing surveillance on Chinese firms and individuals as methods of espionage and means of penetration to steal secrets and engineer subversion will be more refined in the coming years.
Espionage is a ruthless world. While spies may die, the craft lives on—that's the common thread in the chapters that offer an intense narrative of the world of intelligence.