An Indian Army Chinook helicopter flies in Leh on Wednesday (PTI photo)
NEW DELHI: India’s decision to ban 59 Chinese apps may appear to be a small step and taken primarily to register displeasure with China over its military actions on the LAC in eastern Ladakh but according to high level sources, it reflects a larger effort to thwart the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy to mine data for both political and military purposes.
The decision is the driver for a larger plan to deny China and its entities access to sectors in India as diverse as civilian infrastructure and emerging tech like AI, in an attempt to push back against what is now widely known as the CCP’s ‘military-civilian fusion’ strategy. The Chinese playbook involves using apps like TikTok and UC Browser for largescale mining of data that could be used by China for both political and military purposes. For instance, reports that US President Donald Trump’s recent rally registrations may have been hijacked by TikTok bots rang alarm bells in India.
It may have taken the current crisis in Ladakh to spur the Indian government to action, but the security establishment has been raising red flags about Chinese apps for some time now.
While ‘military-civilian fusion’ programme in China has been happening in fits and starts and at a fairly basic level since Mao’s time, President Xi Jinping has ordered what he calls ‘deep fusion’. At its most simple, the Xi version envisages bringing together civilian technologies, education, entertainment and research with security and military sectors to innovate, build on new generation advanced technologies primarily for the PLA, and further China’s national security agenda.
China’s primary target is obviously the US, but India is important for the sheer volume of data generated. Advance technologies with disruptive military and political aims, particularly across borders, needs mega volumes of data. For instance, China’s facial recognition and surveillance technologies have benefited enormously from Chinese companies proliferating these in African countries, primarily for mining data.
The US recently decided to curtail visas for certain categories of Chinese students and researchers precisely for this reason.
In India, the concern is not only about China’s military development, but also about the blurring of lines between the civilian and military worlds. The same concern had prompted the government’s decision in April to put Chinese FDI on prior approval.
Sources said while the decision to ban Chinese apps would have an indirect, but significant impact on Chinese firms, the real task, a tougher one, at least at this point in time, would be to curtail Chinese venture capital in India’s tech startups.