Time for our spooks to grow up and smell the Chinese coffee

Time for our spooks to grow up and smell the Chinese coffee

By M.D. Nalapat | 6 April, 2013
Airplanes displayed at the museum in Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Nanjing.
Security agencies have worked like beavers to ensure that Chinese companies are denied the chance to compete with US and European firms in India.

The weather in Nanjing, once the capital of the KMT government in China and since 1949 a provincial city in the People's Republic, is depressing. The skies are grey and a chill wind from the oceans has brought the temperature down to 12ºC, or half what it ought to have been when this columnist ventured forth to the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (NUAA), the academic hub of hi-tech research in aerospace in China. The half-sleeved woollen jacket from New Delhi's Khan Market offers scant protection from the weather, so it is with relief that one enters the university buildings to sign an MoU between NUAA and Manipal University (MU). A day previously, a similar MoU had been signed with an affiliated institution, the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT). Together, the two account for a substantial portion of China's advanced R&D in civil and military applications, the reason why MU sees them as ideal partners to ramp up its own research from UGC levels to global standards.

Although initially both the Chinese as well as the Indian media were equal in the manner in which they bash each other's country, these days it is television channels and print outlets in India that warn of a "repeat of 1962" and of hordes of Chinese stealing industrial and other secrets from gullible Indians. Indeed, the day after the MU-BIT MoU was signed, one of India's premier commentators on security matters, the venerated Bahukutumbi Raman, sounded an alarm, warning that all that the Chinese wanted was a base within India to conduct espionage. Raman's former agency, RAW, has several times been infiltrated by the CIA and indeed has had more than a few cases of officers being seduced by the United States into serving as double agents. Fortunately for Manipal, which has partnerships with numerous US universities, Raman does not believe that the Americans would ever think of using its campuses as a base for espionage. Nor, clearly, would the British or the French, each of whom has multiple educational partnerships in India, but have yet to be warned about in the way that the two Chinese universities mentioned above have.

Security agencies in India have worked like beavers to ensure that Chinese companies are denied the chance to compete with US and European firms in India, even in sectors where they are highly competitive, such as in telecom, infrastructure, finance and energy. The French, US and Pakistani secret services would be delighted to see that the two biggest countries in Asia remain intensely wary of each other. Whether it be in allowing companies to operate or citizens to be given a visa to the other country, India and China have placed multiple roadblocks in each other's way, to the benefit of third countries. This situation needs to change, for the strengths and skills of both are complementary. Only international weapons manufacturers gain from the perception of another imminent Sino-Indian war in a context where not a single bullet has been fired across either side of the India-China border since 1962. And as for Manipal, despite disapproving frowns from those who believe that India and China should continue to remain apart, the university is happy to join Columbia, California, Toronto, Leeds, Oxford, Purdue, Lyons, Carnegie-Mellon, Yale and Moscow universities in joining hands with BIT and NUAA to ensure more opportunities for its students.

If our spooks are correct, the US, the UK and other countries that have established partner relationships with the top Chinese universities are careless about security. As are, perhaps, Boeing, Motorola and Airbus, each of whom has set up research centres within NUAA in Nanjing. Time to grow up and smell the coffee, boys! However, Raman's implied point is correct, which is that Delhi has a long record of making concessions to Beijing without getting anything in return. In the 1950s, Jawaharlal Nehru walked away from the numerous treaty rights that India had in Tibet without even getting the Chinese side to formally recognise the Sino-Indian boundary in return. In more recent times, India has wholeheartedly backed China in WTO talks without first making sure that the barriers to entry of Indian IT and pharma in that huge market get lifted. And there is no doubt that it is Beijing that has converted Pakistan into a nuclear threat, not only to India but ultimately to itself as well. However, none of this detracts from the fact that in 2013, China is way ahead in technology when compared to India, and that if anybody is to be worried about leakage of technical secrets, it ought to be the Chinese.

Our spooks still follow the strategy of blocking any development that excites their suspicion. They need to understand that economic logic cannot get subverted in the name of security, and that — like China or the US — they need to improve their functioning so that they can monitor even in a dynamic environment.

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