As India steps up economic pressure on China by closing down the digital borders to ensure national security, experts from IT industry and software development explained why it is imperative to curtail the use of Chinese applications and the need to build India’s own capacity to manufacture goods and produce services to counter the Communist Party of China.
Former President of National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) R. Chandrashekhar explained that what separates the Chinese case is based on two factors. Firstly, in other cases, platforms are believed to be used to provide economic gains to the host nations. But in the case of the Chinese apps, there are strong allegations that they have strong links with the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
“This becomes far more deadly for the national security of India. We have an armed confrontation on the border with them (China). Looking at the vulnerability from this antagonist, we cannot afford to spare the threat coming in. Ultimately, the solution lies in trying to build our own capacity and capabilities to ensure that vulnerabilities from foreign nations do not pose a problem,” Chandrashekhar said.
He was speaking at a webinar titled “Data as Weapon: China Invasion through Mobile Apps and 5G”, organized by Law and Society Alliance and Defence Capital on June 3. The online discussion also saw the participation of Secretary, Centre for Knowledge Sovereignty, Vinit Goenka; and Public Policy Commentator and TV Anchor Siddharth Zarabi.
About his experiences on Huawei, Chandrashekhar said that there are very few people in the manufacturing team and most of the things are outsourced in Huawei.
“Out of the 101 thousand employees, Huawei has dedicated 60-70% of its manpower to research. So we need to look up to private as well as public institutions in India to build up such technology on the basis of research,” he said adding that “we are between a rock and a hard place and we need to ensure that our core technologies have a certain degree of autonomy”.
About the idea of procurement by India, the former NASSCOM chief said that there are two major questions – how we procure things and how we research. Manufacturing will depend on these two factors.
“The way we are procuring things, we need to ensure that there should not be competition differentiation between companies. We should find a way to ensure that procurement is done from sources without giving them protection – be it an India company or a foreign entity,” he said.
He further added: “If there is a competing Indian product of acceptable standards, we need to ensure that it gets the opportunity. If not, we need to ensure that the Western companies providing these services will have to set up manufacturing infrastructure in India. CDOT is one of the better organizations in research, but they are weak in commercialization of researched products. It is very important to recognize that the role of defense in communications is huge in R&D. We have been failing to combine R&D development with defense procurement. We need to use imported technology to take our manufacturing to new levels as well as work on our own research.”
Vinit Goenka threw light on the idea of colonization and said that there are three kinds of colonization – military, energy and data.
“China effectively worked to strengthen its position in the area of data colonization,” he said.
“There were three approaches to it. China was very clear two decades back. One approach was the Great Wall, created between their people and the world. Secondly, under the penetration and expansion model, they expanded in the world. The idea was to become a major global competition – in which a greater amount of discount was borne by the state. The third approach was coercion – to buy out the brain under the camouflage of technology”, Goenka added.
Talking about China’s strategy and how the country effectively penetrated the Indian market, Goenka said, that China took advantage of India’s diversity in languages by providing content in local languages.
“They knew that India is a country of multiple languages. While the westerners provided Facebook and Twitter, they provided the content in local languages. People got the voice and it took over the market,” he said.
“They captured data from algorithms, they gave them access to data, and they started maneuvering informed decision making. More than 66% of mobile manufacturing in India is Chinese. Data became a tool in their hand with the fourth industrial revolution,” he added.
Talking about 5G technology, Siddhart Zarabi said in the 5G world ecosystem, “Huawei is King Kong”.
“ZTE has been propped up by the PLA and China, to ensure that the space leftover by Huawei could be captured by ZTE. In the 17th century, Imperial Britain utilized the instruments of the East India Company to rule a larger part of the world. From power, turbines, to luxury items – China is a huge player. Barring jumbo passenger jets, China has been able to reverse engineer everything in the world. It is ensuring to create modern-day structures like the East India Company,” he said.
Zarabi suggested that India should have its own “omnibus national security law” which should think outside of the “Military doctrine and include our infrastructure, commerce market, and the e-commerce world”.
He further said that India needs to understand that it will have to live with China in the future, “not only because of geographical proximity to us, but because we also need to recognize that China has deindustrialized the US and the European countries in the past couple of decades”.
“Let us not get emotional and believe that we can get away with them overnight and think of the long term. 20-25 years back, we had a minimal trade deficit with China, which can efficiently be reversed. The policy community has to think about this,” he said.
Also, he added, “I would request the government to follow what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has beautifully explained as ‘Atmanirbharta’”.
“On the altars of new consumerism on Indian classes, the idea of ‘Swadeshi’ was defeated. We need to recognize that national sovereignty cannot be mortgaged at the cost of economic prices and cheap manufacturing,” Zarabi said.
Talking about the massive change of sentiments in India, he added, “We would not have succeeded in the 1971 war if we hadn’t fought the 1962 war. Death of 20 Indian soldiers has unleashed a massive amount of emotion and rationally we know that it will be forgotten by most people in a couple of days,” he said.
“But it has pulled the attention of a common Indian towards the amount of threat that China poses to India. We have started to work on soul searching. The process of disengagement has started and now the onus lies on the Indian industry,” he added.