In 2021, China could pose an even bigger threat than what it presents with its armed forces on the Himalayas. While much of our attention in 2020 had been dominated by the Chinese army’s intrusions along the LAC in Ladakh, there has been little discussion on the scale of Chinese intrusions in many other levels that pose a threat to our society, business and industry. Cyber hacking is one thing, but China is apparently working on a much larger plan, for regional and global domination.
For instance, Chinese telecom products and their applications are all over India. And since India offers one of the largest markets of cell phone users and their apps – with reportedly 560 million cell phone and e-application users – Chinese companies like Alibaba and Tencet have reportedly invested in the likes of Paytm, MxPlayer and Gaana.
China and technology
What our gullible users have failed to see is that their personal data has been silently absorbed by the Chinese app and service providers. In fact, Indians are known to give out information and data more easily than most other societies, partly because the risks of doing so haven’t been explained to the innocent Indian users.These pose a big security challenge, especially so, as many users are also using their phones for work from home, and through that, they could provide privileged information of their Companies, to those that have made the phone and their applications, i.e, the Chinese.
It is well known that the internet is controlled by two camps today; the ‘open’ or the traditional camp dominated by Western companies – like Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc – and the ‘closed’ or the companies controlled by China – like Alibaba and Baidu – and it’s not rocket science to know where the greater dangers lie.
The debate even in ‘open’ western societies is now to prune down the influence of Facebook and others. No wonder that the Indian army has ordered all its personnel to disable their Facebook accounts, and neither can they read anything on Twitter. It can be argued that this goes against the spirit of free speech, but if Western countries – which are the champions of free speech- are considering such steps, then would we be far behind? These pose hard questions, and there may be a national debate, but we need to move on.
Around 50 organisations of the US government have been recently hacked – and this includes the US Treasury, State and Homeland Security departments – with their cybersecurity experts remaining clueless about the thefts for nearly nine months! The source or origin of a cyber attack is very difficult to identify, even for the US, and third-party providers in the US– like the software produced by SolarWinds and used by the network management tool Orion – had malware and spy tools that went unnoticed.
Where India stands
As India has ranked poorly on the Cyber power index computed internationally, to safeguard itself and to respond to cyber-attacks, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that while our critical national assets are reasonably secure against the repeated cyber attacks they face, the security of our banking and business entities need to be further enhanced, if 2021 is not another nightmare! That should be a major priority as we begin this New Year, and not just China’s enhanced military preparations in Tibet.
Even as we watch out for China’s next territorial grab, an equally important area of concern is the Chinese desire for what we might call ‘çhip’ technologies. Last year, American authorities reportedly claimed to have uncovered a Chinese plot under China’s “thousand talents programme” that is designed to recruit its (US) citizens ‘to steal from our institutions’ claim US officials. On the face of it, it had seemed an extension of the US-China trade tensions, even though there was a truce of sorts, in December 2019. But America’s concerns are probably much greater.
Here is an example of what the Chinese have been capable of. In November 2016, the US Navy’s extremely high-tech guided-missile destroyer, the USS Zumwalt – that was commissioned at a cost of US$ 4.4 billion – and was billed as a force multiplier- had suffered a propulsion failure on the Panama Canal.
Even as we watch out for China’s next territorial grab, an equally important area of concern is the Chinese desire for what we might call ‘çhip’ technologies.
This shocked the US defence establishment. A thorough investigation led the US to identify ‘Çhinese Chips’- microchips that were manufactured by China’s PLA- which the Americans had to buy in tens of thousands to cut manufacturing costs. To authenticate America’s findings, two days after the embarrassing failure of the US navy’s destroyer, a British hi-tech naval destroyer, HMS Duncan, had suffered a similar propulsion failure.
This apparently also had Chinese Chips in it! Therefore, electronic warfare is the next big challenge for militaries worldwide and China is focusing on that more than conventional military platforms. The recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan gives us one major take away: it is that the nation that has more advanced electronic warfare capabilities, will win battles in future.
The use of drones, sensors, and microchips could be more lethal than the armada of air and naval power that had until now dominated military planning. The jamming of radars could make military users blind, and many of your systems could be rendered useless. The Chinese are working to get to the top of it, and so should we in India. The one priority should therefore be to create ‘geek brigades’ for our armed forces and the theatre commands being put in place.
The Chinese are willing to spend money, to buy out politicians, stifle the media, steal resources and even technology; it’s all par for the course.
Thus to understand the game plan of the Chinese it would be wise to read what’s been articulated in a book on Unrestricted Warfare by two PLA air force officers. And though the focus of their writings is on how China could get the better of USA, not just militarily but even economically, there are lessons that India would be foolish to ignore. The US strategic community continues to focus on retaining their military edge purely with newer technologies. But the Chinese have for some years quietly built up their reach within the American elites and have by now long-standing financial links even within Democrats and Joe Biden’s party members.
It is in keeping with the strategy outlined by the authors of Unrestricted Warfare, who’ve suggested that the use of all means, armed and unarmed, with lethality, to compel an enemy to submit to your interests. If this requires money, the Chinese are willing to spend it, to buy out politicians, stifle the media, steal resources and even technology; it’s all par for the course.
This seems to be a pattern that is steadily emerging even in India, which offers both opportunities and challenges for China. Thus the threat China poses is perhaps greater than the military challenge posed by Beijing on the Sino-Indian Himalayan front, even though Chinese air assets are deployed to their optimum, as the IAF Chief had recently indicated.
And finally, if the pandemic has shown us one thing, then it is the crippling effect that a biological attack could have on any society. We are still limping back to normalcy after the ‘Wuhan virus’ – as President Trump referred to it – crippled us. Worse still, it will be impossible to prove where it came from. Even though most countries are signatories to international conventions against biological weapons, many still maintain their stocks of germs.
And if and when they do decide to use it, this could have a devastating impact and for which we aren’t quite prepared. As a first step, to prevent that, it is thus important to assess the power of bio-threats and bio-weapons and cultivate our bio-preparedness from a multi-disciplinary perspective.
This would require initiatives to evolve protocols and a mechanism to identify scientific inventions and discoveries of potential threat to humanity as a whole and some nations specifically. There must be funds allocated for it in the coming budget, for constant monitoring of the natural threats in different continents and climatic conditions to see how environmental and other factors could lead to the spread of threats. Nature apart, a planned biological or chemical attack could be devastating, and 2020 could look like a long easy vacation.
The story was earlier published on timesnownews.com