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India-China—Role Of Spies In The Offense-Defense Balance

The year 2020 has been not good for the world, especially for China, which has now been cornered for the Karma of Communist party of China (CPC). The offence- defense balance theory says—war is likely when one state chooses offensive strategies under the assumption that such a stance gives it advantage over it’s rival. Often such states prefer offensive stance due to it’s defense vulnerabilities, triggering a cycle that lead to both sides amassing weapons due to distrust and insecurity. A self-aware China prefers offense over defense, but it’s weapons are not just arms and ammunitions but also it’s sleuth community which has managed to percolate into myriads of government machineries across the world. Over a period of time India has changed it’s stance towards China and there are certain advantages which the former has over the latter, mountain warfare being one of them.

Advantages of offense as a strategy in India and China’s context

Proponents of offence-defense theory like Robert Jervis argue, that a country which chooses offense as a strategy does so because it does not believe in status-quo or is hiding it’s vulnerabilities by taking initiative to attack first. As a consequence of such a behaviour, chances of cooperation are low and this gives rise to arms race.


CPC has made it’s intentions as clear as the blue sky after pushing Chinese soldiers to attempt an intrusion in Ladakh, and to pick-up a rebarbative hand-to-hand battle with Indian soldiers, that it doesn’t intend to back off from it’s expansionist mission. This has led India to hasten its acquisition of arms and ammunitions as it wants to thwart any possibility of a war. S-400 from Russia, Rafale fighter jets from France, the Arad and the Carmel AR (assault rifles) from Israel, and many such defense deals have been clinched in the nick of time by Ministry of defence.

Yet the arms race will further push China and India into an offence-defense imbalance where war will become imminent. This is so because– India-China border, which is mostly mountainous, favours the side which takes action first.

So we will have 2 scenarios:

Scenario 1: Preventive war by China

This might take place when CPC discerns a shift in balance of power towards India. Under such circumstances, PLA (Peope’s liberation Army of China) could decide to attack first to derive the benefit of attacking before conditions become favourable for India.

Scenario 2: Preemptive war by India

This might take place when India takes the initiative to attack first, to prevent China from attacking, or to obstruct China’s attack, as India might fear PLA is preparing for a war. 

The possibility of second scenario is lesser, as agreed by many officers from Indian Army. The common consensus is — if China opens a front along the 4057 Km long Line of actual control (LAC) that it shares with India, then Indian defence forces should not be reticent in opening multi-fronts to China, which should Navy’s participation too. Since now India’s ready with a sound surveillance sensors chain to trap Chinese submarines and ships along the Andaman-Nicobar islands, India’ posture will deter China from misadventures in future.

Unfortunately, the terrain along India-China border adds to the woes of both countries. While on one side the high elevation of Tibetan plateau works in favour of Chinese ground forces, on the other side their air campaigns will have many limitations. Their jet engines will take longer to ignite at higher elevations, they will have to depend on reduced payload capacity (in terms of munition), they will be able to carry out shorter duration missions as most of their air bases are located at lower altitudes, and refueling will be an issue.

The above picture shows: decreasing air density will decrease the climb-performance of the aircraft.  Namely, if the density is lower, then the aircraft will need a longer runway to take-off, and once it takes-off, it will climb (gain altitude) more slowly. Pic credit:

 Add to the above the fact that even precision-guided-missiles face performance variation at high elevations. But certain factors will work against the Indian defence forces, one of them being– Indian forward positions are overlooked by Chinese posts, tilting the scale of success in surveillance and artillery operations to the Chinese side.

 A popular troop to space theory says that to win against a continuous front one needs a force density of 3:1. In India’s context, 3 Indian soldiers will be needed for every Chinese soldier, if China attacks first.

But in mountain warfare this ratio can vary anywhere between 6:1 or 10:1. This whittles down every logic behind using a defensive strategy against China along LAC.

The planning ratio according to the US Army, pic credit :

But nothing can be further from the truth than the assumption that China merely uses arms and ammunitions for it’s offensive strategies.

CPC utilises innocent and unassuming Chinese citizens to contribute towards world’s largest network of spies under Ministry of state security (MSS) of China.

The Chinese sleuth offense

Pic credit: securityboulevard

Very early in it’s evolution, CPC had understood that “Knowledge is power”, —knowledge of enemy’s style of functioning is the greatest source of dominance, that shores up a nation’s foundation. This is based on Sun Tzu’s principle which says—“know thyself, know your enemy—a thousand battles, a thousand victories”. And what can be better than percolating into every Government institution surreptitiously? The testimony to this is– African union’s headquarters which was “gifted” to the African continent as a goodwill gesture by China. But alas! The computers installed to the security cameras of the headquarter were found to be transmitting data to servers in China. This is a modern day trojan horse. Presently there are about 186 structures in Africa across 40 countries that are being built by China. Without an ounce of doubt it can be assumed that most of these are merely CPC’s way of reinforcing it’s spy network across the continent. But the fact that world intelligence community including the revered CIA woke up to Covid-19 pandemic almost 4 months after it had spread like a wildfire in Wuhan, makes one wonder— how did CPC ensure Chinese outperformed others when it came to spying?

The answer is simple—China uses the most unassuming people to function as it’s spies—the Chinese citizens. The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) of China performs it’s intelligence functions using ‘working units’ of the ‘Chinese citizens’. MPS has the power to draft any citizen to spy over fellow citizens or foreigners living in their area. This ensures that China becomes an ocean with no dearth of spies. This is definitely not possible in any other government system, especially the democracies.

Every citizen is a spy and every citizen is under the social credit system, pic credit: Times magazine

While MPS is largely entrusted with law enforcement, it is the China’s Ministry of state security (MSS) that’s responsible for counter-intelligence, foreign intelligence and political security. The most popular of Chinese spying strategy “1000 grains of sand” is what ensures that China has an edge over other spy agencies.

CPC encourages the Chinese citizens to be globe-trotters, when they return from other countries, they are welcomed by Chinese intelligence officers, who gather loose grains of information from the amateur info-collectors.The method of collecting micro-intelligence is so effective that in 1988 when China exploded it’s first “ingenuously” made neutron bomb, American scientists woke up to the fact that the technology was stolen from them. Thanks to the lackadaisical attitude of Livermore nuclear weapons lab towards security!

Initially American agencies were hesitant in giving out the exact method of information extraction that was used, later FBI revealed that Chinese delegations comprising mostly of MSS intelligence operatives, under the garb of being scientists, visited the Livermore lab and were able to collect bits and pieces of information over a prolonged period of time. But CPC’s persistence paid-off and voila! China acquired a neutron bomb. But America had not learnt it’s lesson from the incident, such information-theft assisted China to design it’s own helicopters, fighter jets and myriads of other products later.

Pic credit:

Unlike US, China was always quick to learn it’s lessons, Gulf-war being one of them. CPC’s leaders were startled at how technology had assisted US army in a victory against Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan. 2 years after Gulf-war, CPC changed it’s basic aim of preparations for military struggle (PMS) as—“winning local wars under conditions of informationization”. An era of information warfare had arrived, but the governments across the world were fast asleep.

Chinese ministry of state security and it’s branches, Pic credit: Stratfor

Information warfare soon transmogrified itself into high-tech cyber warfare. Today Chinese hackers indulge in military-technological espionage to gain military knowledge and industrial espionage to gain economic advantage, with equal ease. Infact, China uses the term “8 King Kongs” to describe the top internet companies in its domestic supply chain: Apple, Cisco, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, and Qualcomm. The sobriquet King-kong was given to these companies so that Chinese companies can compete with them and defeat these tech giants in their field.  One of the most recent case of industrial espionage was faced by the Japanese company, Mitsubishi, when 2 Chinese hacker groups stole specifications of a missile.

Once again, CPC’s far-sightedness should not be underestimated. In December 2019, one of Belgium’s leading universities decided to shut down Chinese government funded Confucius institute of languages in it’s campus, after a news of it’s professor’s involvement in espionage surfaced. This was not the first time an innocuous looking institute of language was found to have inextricable links to China’s spying network, many such accusations in the past were pushed under the carpet after no clear evidences were found. But since almost a decade now many reports have confirmed that Confucius institutes and similar Chinese organizations have political agenda and that they transmit it in a veiled manner. Despite being aware of an awaiting threat, by 2018, a network of total of 548 Confucius Institutes and 1,193 Confucius Classrooms had cropped-up across the world, with 2 such institutes in India. But thankfully, in India Confucius institutes ran into trouble when universities were asked to take Home Ministry’s approval for allowing the language course inside campuses. But how did the revered intel community of America and other countries miss the mushrooming Chinese institutes on their soil? Facts are sometimes stranger than fiction!!!  

Graph credit: Statistica

Chinese Red flags on Indian soil

Earlier Chinese agencies relied on ISI (Pakistan’s spy agency) for many of it’s operations on Indian soil and for human gathered intelligence (HUMINT). ISI agents can speak Indian languages and they look similar to Indians, these are advantages that MSS considered while forming the dalliance with ISI. The actual association started way back in 60’s, when Chinese and Pakistani intelligence officers worked together while establishing contacts with insurgents in North-Eastern India. They used Dhaka, Bangladesh, as their base. Since then many cases with Chinese links have surfaced—one incident being an arrest of a disgruntled Tibetan refugee in 2018 from Manipur who had assisted China in spying. This had alarmed intelligence bureau (IB), which had in return alerted all the north-eastern states. There are about 128,000 Tibetan refugees in India presently, most of whom had escaped to India after Chinese forces took over Tibet in 50’s.  Another noteworthy arrest happened in 2019 when a Nepali speaking, Assamese resident, was hired by ISI to spy on Indian Army soldiers in Arunachal Pradesh.  

Undated file photo of fighters of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah) at a camp on the outskirts of the town of Dimapur in the eastern state of Nagaland the main city of the eastern state of Assam from March 2000. India lifted a 12-year-old ban on the biggest insurgent group in the northeastern state of Nagaland on Tuesday, opening way for talks, officials said. REUTERS/Utpal Baruah JSG/AH

  It is imperative at this stage to know how much penetration do Chinese intelligence agencies have vis-à-vis India? Few of high-profile cases that have come to the fore are

Despite the above incidents certain state governments within India have been very callous in their approach towards security. One such example is of the ISRO’s remote sensing unit in Kolkatta which is located at a stone throw away from Chinese company Dang Fang electrical.

Yes, the above incidents are infuriating to every Indian who reads it but there’s still hope. As of now, Indian government has banned 59 Chinese apps; it is reviewing around 50 investment proposals from Chinese firms; Indian spy agency,RAW, thwarted ISI designs in the strategic island of Maldives; and Indian defence forces are beefing up security both on land and littoral zones. But the task doesn’t end here.

India needs to take an avant-garde approach against Chinese snooping methods –is the most common suggestion thrown at the Indian government. Not many know that External affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar had spent 5 years in China as Indian Ambassador to China, or that Indian Chief of Army staff, Gen Naravane, is an expert on China, or that National security advisor, Ajit Doval, has himself authored many papers on Chinese Ministry of state security in the past. Gist is—Indian Government takes Chinese threat loaming in the shadow very seriously, and ergo the top order has many experts vis-a-vis China, and this should allay the fear of those apprehensive about the dragon’s threat to India.

An article by Levina 

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