“War Is Peace.”
The slogan is first of the three slogans of the Party. The Party is a dictatorial and autocratic regime that controls every aspect of its citizens life. Citizens constantly live under surveillance. People are monitored even in their homes. Dissent in any form is not tolerated. Even in the form of thought. If they are found out by the government, they are introduced to Room 101. Doesn’t this feel similar?
Post the outbreak of the pandemic , the world has shed its blinkers blinding it to the increased Chinese surveillance activity. Known for quashing dissent in a brutal manner, China is arming itself with technological applications and equipment. Mooted in 2007, the social credit system envisioned by the Communist Party of China took off in 2014.
Under the system the authorities wanted to monitor all social activities of every citizen. Good deeds would be rewarded and activities considered would see the individual blacklisted. A blacklisted individual loses basic rights like to traveling on train, booking air tickets, denied the right to buy property. The more serious the violation, more the number of restrictions slapped against the person. With its ever growing technological prowess, they wanted to go global with it.
But recent developments in the sphere of geopolitics have changed the scenario. The bellicose diplomacy of Beijing and donating faulty equipment in the name of aid has put China in the bad books of nations globally. Its deeds which went unquestioned are being raised at various fora.
The Orwellian Chinese regime is under fire on multiple fronts. Concerns about Chinese owned data platforms and suppliers of infrastructure to create information superways were a part of discussion for quite some time. These concerns were not deemed important. Well, the tables have turned now.
Governments across the globe are now concerned about usage of data collected by Chinese firms, their research institutes and its armed forces. Allegations of theft of intellectual property have dogged the country for decades now. The latest allegation is that Chinese hackers are trying to steal information on vaccine research across the globe. The threats to data privacy and protection which were flagged regularly are being taken seriously.
However, this was not the case earlier. The same governments were viewing China with their rose tinted glasses on. With strong economic ties with Beijing boosting their economies and the companies bringing in the moolah, they did not want to upset the applecart. The advent of the pandemic has made these countries has change the nature of their ties with China.
Trying to take advantage of a crisis of their own making, it pursued an expansionist agenda. It opened up fronts ranging from the East China Sea to Ladakh. Antagonising its neighbours with its military posturing, while they are battling the pandemic angered the global community. All of misdeeds, ignored or unknown, are now being talked about in an open manner. Every move of the Chinese administration is under intense scrutiny.
China’s disregard for the order of the UNCLOS , its espionage operations: stealing military designs, hacking into medical research, cultivating spies through talent programs and Confucius schools, its inhumane concentration camps where the Uighur community is being ethnically cleansed, the subversion of international organisations and its links to terror groups have now become diplomatic ammunition in the thematic diplomatic war going on. At the centre of this whole mess, is the tool China relied on its quest for world dominance. Its information technology equipment and its mobile applications.
These applications like Tiktok, WeChat, Xender, ShareIt and its network infrastructure companies like Huawei and ZTE were at the core of world wide web to control data of citizens across the globe. Intelligence agencies and governmental committees were warning their respective governments about the dangers presented by these companies and applications.
Spying on foreign nations’ sensitive installations using hardware of Chinese homegrown companies to obtain classified information risked the national security and economic stability of those nations. Information obtained on the sly would be the Communist regime in Beijing to pressurise foreign governments to do their bidding. It would buy them favorable dispensation in those countries.
Gaining information of developmental technologies from countries like USA and Russia helped China cut down costs on research and development. All its technological advancements are a rip-off of existing ideas. Without any efforts from their side, it saves them billions of dollars that are spent in product development. It includes a variety of sectors. Be it the advanced defence systems in their military arsenal or its companies, all of them are designed at beating the original makers and ideators at their own game.
In recent times, its mobile applications have come under the scanner for censorship of content in various countries. The India-China standoff in Ladakh at the LAC has exposed the biased censorship of these applications. Many videos promoting and eulogising rape, acid attacks and spreading fake news on the safety precautions due to the pandemic were allowed on their platform. But content questioning the intent of Chinese aggression at the LAC was immediately taken down.
An Indian TikTok influencer Saloni Gaur known for her satirical character Nazma Aapi made a video on the military skirmish in Ladakh. The video was taken down by the TikTok content team. After the controversy played out on Indian media, the video was reinstated. But after the incident, Saloni Gaur has decided to stay off Tiktok.
There was other commentary on twitter about how Chinese mobile companies were also involved in it. People who were using Chinese smartphones were not able view content critical of China. This censorship of content was not limited to the ordinary citizen. After the June 15 clash at Galwan Valley, China took down the statement from the Indian External Affairs Ministry and also blocked the Prime Minister’s statement from its micro blogging platform Weibo.
I have my own personal experience to share. After I published the articles: one, two and three, I lost the option of accessing any information provided through links on Chrome. The browser option pop-up did not have the Chrome option anymore. The only direct option was the browser offered by the Chinese manufacturer of the smartphone. It was a tedious process to copy the link and change applications multiple times to get the work done. The fear of this personal data being handed to and viewed by foreign entities made a bit paranoid.
The pandemic that broke has shed light on deep net cast by the Chinese regime to gather data on people on a global scale. The danger it presents to security and stability of countries is now being cited by governments in banning Huawei, its subsidiaries and all Chinese related equipment. But what broke the camel’s back was the aggression mounted by China in the Ladakh region. It set off a chain of events whose culmination is not in sight.
However, it has made the world wary about China and its intentions. The concerns of Chinese espionage and its questionable intent are talking points in media rooms. While the government may have begun the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, it was rallying call of Sonam Wangchuk that set the ball rolling. And countries are beginning to dismantle the groundwork laid by China is its quest for global digital dominance.