China bought influence in Bollywood, universities, think-tanks, tech industry: Law and Society Alliance study report

Photo: Cover of Study Report released at an online event on Sep. 3 by Law and Society Alliance.

New Delhi: A research study has shown that China has lavishly spent huge sums of money to buy influence in India’s film world, universities, social institutions, research think-tanks, social media, and the tech industry, posing a serious threat to national security and democracy.

The 76-page Study Report titled ‘Mapping Chinese Footprints and Influence Operation in India’ released by the Law and Society Alliance on Sep.3 tries to identify how deep and extensive the Chinese foothold in India is.

The report covers a wide range of topics and identifies key elements and ways in which Chinese intelligence services and the Chinese Communist Party government have entrenched themselves into various Indian sectors from the entertainment industry to academia.

Besides highlighting the Indian industries and areas where China has over the years increased its influence through strategic investments, the report also touches upon Beijing’s hidden agenda in increasing its influence to shape the opinion of the common man, the voters, in India.

Through a combination of financial investments, as seen in the entertainment industry, to propaganda in the socio-political realm through Confucius Institutes, Beijing is using every trick in its playbook to make in-roads into the Indian economy and society in order to try and advance its own selfish narrative and to create discord within the Indian society with regard to China’s actions and motives.

1.   Influence on Indian Entertainment Industry

In the last few years, China has repeatedly tried to make incursions into the Indian entertainment industry and influence Bollywood through the mechanism of co-productions of movies.

The clearest evidence of Beijing attempting to influence Bollywood was the hosting of the China-India Film Co-Production Dialogue at the Beijing International Film Festival in 2019. The Chinese influence even successfully managed the participation of prominent Indian cinema icons like Shah Rukh Khan and Kabir Khan.

The report also highlights how the Chinese Communist Party has created a lobby group headed by an Indian lobbyist specifically for the Indian film industry.

Beijing’s influence has been subtle but systematic. The Chinese have managed to win over prominent individuals in film regulatory bodies that have ensured that Chinese interests are well represented in Bollywood, or at the very least not harmed.

One instance of this is how the Chinese successfully influenced the producers of the film “Rockstar” to blur a flag that had “Free Tibet” written on it that was shown in a popular song of the film.

2.   Engagement with Think-Tanks and Civil Society

Beijing’s influence operations have not only been limited to the entertainment industry, but over the years, China has also tried to control and steer Indian think-tanks and civil society.

To do so, China has attempted and, in some ways, succeeded to make deep in-roads in the India intellectual space. One of the primary ways in which China achieved its great influence on think-tanks is by making generous donations, either directly or through proxies.

China also regularly facilitates exchange programmes among think-tanks and university students. The students travel to China at the Chinese governments’ expense and inadvertently fall prey to Beijing’s narrative. China has also deployed “intellectuals”, “academicians” and floated organisations to further its narrative.

3.   Growing Nexus Between Chinese Embassy and Indian Academia

The report also highlights how Chinese institutes are rapidly coming up and have been established in dozens of Indian educational institutions. This, in-turn, has a rippling effect of having Indian institutions taking a pro-China stance and influencing the impressionable Indian students.

One example of Chinese infiltration into India’s educational institutions is how a prominent public management university located in the North-East of India offers a Post Graduate Programme for Executives (Managing Business in India and China) under which students are sent to Chinese Universities.

Moreover, China has expanded its influence within Indian educational institutions using a state-supported social foundation called ‘Confucius Institute’. First established in 2004, these institutes are supposed to be centres of learning but are just another tool used by China to expand its public influence.

4.   Communist China using Indian Media as Steppingstone

China has also tried to use the Indian media and prominent Indian media personalities to influence civil society, and this is the centre piece of its propaganda tactics. One of the examples highlighted by the Law and Society Alliance’s report is the case of detained journalist Rajeev Sharma, who is facing allegations of spying for China.

The report analyses the articles authored by him and thus, showing clearly that Rajeev Sharma has been a long-time contributor to Chinese influence operations in India — to the extent of even advocating for India to hand over His Holiness the Dalai Lama to China.

5.   Chinese Propaganda through Social Media

Tech savvy youths in India are routinely tuning to mobile apps for their day-to-day needs, Chinese influence operations have even sought to control this sector, especially news apps. The top three news apps in India — Dailyhunt, NewsDog and UC News — have received major investments from Chinese firms to the tune of several millions of US dollars.

The Law and Society Alliance report contains many more such examples of Beijing subtly trying to influence the India population using social media and mobile applications, including video tools.

6.   Exploitation of Tech Sector Interdependence

India’s budding tech sector has also not been able to escape the clutches of China. Since 2015, China and Chinese firms have invested around $7 billion in the Indian tech sector. Coupled with many acquisitions, Chinese companies have become major shareholders of some of India’s biggest tech companies.

Another worrying development that has been aptly highlighted in the report is the powerful reputation that Chinese telecommunication giant, Huawei, shares among Indian business leaders and policy communities.

Huawei has had its global reputation tarnished by being labelled as a pawn of the Chinese Communist Party and for carrying out espionage operations against foreign nationals.

7.   Gaining Mileage through Political Patronage

One of the easiest ways for a country to influence another nation is through its leaders. Chinese influence over the years has slowly permeated into India’s political environment as well.

One of the examples highlighted by the Law and Society Alliance report is how the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has refrained from criticising or rebuking China.

Despite its meek stance against China, over the years, the CPI-M has not shied away from aggressively questioning Indian government’s foreign policy decisions on China and have even alleged that New Delhi was succumbing to Washington’s pressure.

While this alone does not indicate a Chinese ploy, there is ample evidence provided in the report of how CPI-M received cash and kind from China. CPI-M leaders have also strongly criticised the Indian media and academia for holding China responsible for the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

8.   Conclusions

In summing up, the Law and Society Alliance report, through meticulous research and data collection, has managed to show that China has made significant in-roads into numerous Indian sectors in the past few years.

China has been using subtle tactics to spread its influence and propaganda on not just India, but also its neighbours and the world at large.

Global powers such as the United States, Canada and Australia have already recognised this growing trend and taken concrete steps to minimise Beijing’s influence on their societies.

China’s aggressive wolf-warrior diplomacy, coupled with its more subtle influence operations, have allowed it to infiltrate deep into several key sectors of India, by using its warfare doctrine of winning without fighting.

It is a collective responsibility of all Indians to take cognisance of these nefarious strategies of the Communist Party of China and take a united stand against it — because allowing Communist China a free run in India can be disastrous for India in the long run.

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