A leaked database of about 2 million Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members containing their personal details including their party positions, date of birth and national identity etc working in global companies across the world reveals the reach of the party and its intents. While the leaked report does not indicate involvement of these members in the intelligence operations, there are several reports indicating extensive use of the CCP members for intelligence operations.
Crucially, this data exposes how party members are being deployed in different countries under the cover of employees of the companies that include well known international business entities like Boing, Volkswagen, HSBC, ANZ, pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Astra-Zeneca etc. While all of them may not be involved in sophisticated espionage operations, they all must be acting as eyes and ears of the CCP.
The data details hundreds of senior employees in potentially sensitive areas around the world, including foreign diplomatic missions, who would be required to comply with any request to deliver intelligence to the Chinese government under the terms of their membership.
The CCP members are recruited after thorough a process of stringent vetting and are required to take oath to ‘never betray the party’. It may be mentioned that even XI was rejected initially for recruitment into the party: he could join only when an influential member recommended him.
Recently, John Ratcliffe, the US Director of national Intelligence remarked: “Many of China`s major public initiatives and prominent companies offer only a layer of camouflage to the activities of the Chinese Communist Party.” US had to revoke visas of more than 1000 Chinese students with ties to China’s military fusion strategy (seven military related institutions in China) to prevent them from stealing and otherwise appropriating sensitive research. While closing the Chinese Consulate in Houston, the press release pointed out that there was a broad network of Chinese involved in providing guidance for evading and obstructing the US investigations.
Cai Xia, a life-long member of the CCP and a frontline cadre of the party has revealed how the ideology is used for propaganda purposes to keep the party in power. Multiple tasks are assigned to the CCP members varying from collection of commercial, political and strategic intelligence to assist in the manoeuvres for changing the environment through influence operations and meddling in elections in China’s favour.
The CCP uses institutions like United Front Work, Confucius Institutions (operated by the Ministry of Education), Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), Chamber of Commerce, Townsmen Association, Alumni Association, Xinhua News Agency.
The CSSA in foreign universities get money from the Chinese embassy/Consulates/ Confucius institutions and receive instructions from them. The Confucius Programme is funded by the Office of the Chinese Language Council International.
This is linked to the United Front Work Department, which is now headed by Chinese President, Xi Jinping. This body is responsible for psychological and media operations with the aim of expanding Chinese influence world over.
Besides, various social media platforms are used for influence operations, which are designed by specialists.
The data includes the names of Chinese officials who are occupying important positions in the consulates or in the business enterprises and those whose visas have been revoked for suspicious activities like Shanghai-based Australian scholar Chen Hong. The data included the consulates of the UK, the US, India, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand, Italy and South Africa.
Experts world-over have pointed out the need for keeping a strict surveillance on the activities of CCP members, consulates, Confucius and Chinese language institutions. In recent times, the influence and interference operations by the CCP through various means have become sophisticated and are planned with the use of Artificial Intelligence. China has a well-planned road map for dominating the world order.
Such ambitions are manifest not only in military expansionism but also in attempts to subvert democratic countries’ institutions and control the thought process of the decision makers and opinion shapers. The adverse dimensions of the well-planned multi-layered influence operations using a range of sophisticated techniques from cyber-operations to corrupting insiders and blackmailing have acquired dangerous proportions globally.
The US has reduced the period of visa to one month for the CCP members. In UK, the issue is to be taken up in the Parliament. Australia too is concerned over such attempts. The Indian intelligence agencies have been warning about the CCP-led influence and intelligence operations for quite some time.
While the Indian diplomatic missions do take precautionary measures, in view of media reports that seven branches of CCP had made the Indian connection, extra care needs to be taken. India has taken steps to purchase telecom equipment from trusted companies and banned several apps.
However, India has to go beyond the above steps to deal with the emerging threats. Our surveillance abilities have to be enhanced significantly on such elements. We should identify the persons and institutions associated with the Chinese United Front Works Department, which is funding media conferences, academic seminars and foreign trips and keep them under rigorous surveillance.
It should be made mandatory for Indian educational institutes and think-tanks to obtain prior permission from the government before signing any MoU with foreign entities or organising any seminar or conferences with their involvement. Such a proposal was mooted earlier and it should be now adopted.
China has been building its narrative to justify its positions on various sensitive issues concerning India. Its influence operations have been targeting strategic community to ensure support for the Chinese position. On social media, such victims of operations are projecting doubts over the Indian government’s statements on the LAC or creating a fear of PLA’s capabilities.
Though usually written by such elements who lack even basic credentials and aptly termed as “useful idiots” of China, can create a sense of panic, distrust in the political leadership, and abilities of the armed forces. The need to counter such narratives can hardly be under-estimated.
In addition, our abilities to connect the dots particularly those indicating Chinese machinations needs to be significantly enhanced. Our attention remained focussed on Pakistan and the Chinese activities received less attention than required. While India got alerted when the Pakistan Army began looking for winter equipment in Europe prior to 1984, and the Indian Army occupied Siachen in a pre-emptive move, the Chinese winter training exercises with Canadian forces in 2018-2019 did not receive the due attention.
This should have been more so as after the Sino-Pak failure at the UN closed door meet, the Chinese Vice Chairman of CMC dashed to Pakistan. Some experts then had warned about the Sino-Pak collaboration in J&K. It is also possible that the agencies may have warned but these warnings could have been ignored in view of developing close relations.
The intelligence failures can take place at three levels. First, at the collection level; second at the assessment making level because of the biases of assessors; and third at the acceptance level because of the biases of the top decision makers. While we need to strengthen our abilities at the first two levels, the third level demands that the decision makers are made aware of the importance of ‘the assessed intelligence’ on a continuing basis.
This is often difficult to achieve as the top decision makers at the political level come with their strong prejudices and biases and ignore assessments contrary to their perceptions. However, the intelligence chiefs have to make extra efforts to bring such issues repeatedly to the notice of the top policy makers until they are taken in our calculus for dealing with the emerging threats. Preparing for the worst- case scenarios in the fast-developing security environment is a necessity and not an option.