The role of China’s Confucius Institute, which is overtly an intellectual institution, has now come under the scanner of the Indian covert agencies, which suspect that the institute is exploited by Beijing worldwide for Intelligence gathering. The establishment of one Confucius Institute centre in Mumbai University and efforts at setting up similar centres in Vellore, Sulur, Coimbatore and Kolkata has sent alarm bells ringing in the Intelligence community here.
The Chinese agencies’ efforts through Chinese businessmen to gain access to decision making levels in Indian establishments have also emerged as another area of concern, a senior Intelligence official said. Amid China’s growing geopolitical ambition, the Indian Intelligence agencies are apprehending aggressive Intelligence gathering by Bejing.
The agencies are keeping a watch on the MoUs signed with Indian universities /colleges, student exchange programmes and attempts to manipulate the post-Dalai Lama situation in their favour. China has reportedly sought the custody of the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje from Washington. Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje deceitfully exited from India to the US in April last year.
Karmapa is the second most important leader in the Tibetan Buddhism hierarchy after Dalai Lama. China already has taken custody of another key Tibetan Buddhist leader Panchen Lama.
Union Home Ministry sources said Home Minister Rajnath Singh is seized of the threats emanating from Chinese penetration in Indian educational institutions and has sought a strategy to be put in place to deal with the challenge.
The Intelligence agencies have advised the States to keep a watch on the Chinese activities and inform the Central agencies for collation of data and remedial action.
“The modus operandi of the Chinese Intelligence gathering apparatus globally is using amateurs and its expatriate community settled worldwide which is not only a big challenge to detect but also difficult to prove in a court of law. China is the most active nation involved in cyber espionage with formidable capabilities,” an Intelligence official said.
The Chinese intelligence agencies are also known to be different from their counterparts in US and Russia wherein Beijing exploits its soft power for espionage activities under the cover of legitimate activities. Notably, China indulges in intelligence gathering through academics and scholars, business people and Intelligence operatives under official cover of diplomats, defence attaches and journalists, another official said.
India and China share a complicated relationship due to the lack of delineation of India-China boundary, lack of clarification of the Line of Actual Control, Beijing’s concern about presence of the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso in India and New Delhi’s concerns regarding post-Dalai Lama scenario.
The relationship is further complicated by Chinese support to Northeastern insurgent groups, increased Chinese interest in the Indian Ocean Region and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC, a part of BRI) which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and growing Chinese influence in India’s neighbourhood especially Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Maldives, added the official.