A thought-provoking book about Chinese meddling in India claims China's ruling party is bankrolling Harvard as part of its plan to infiltrate the Indian psyche and social fabric.

Chinese meddling: A new perspective

Ratna and Nadim Siraj

October 5, 2023: There is plenty of coverage in the mainstream media about Chinese influence, Chinese incursions, and Chinese meddling in India’s internal affairs at various levels, especially over the economy and border control. Now, a thought-provoking book has shed light on Beijing’s new plot to infiltrate our country’s national psyche and social fabric using western institutions.

We are talking about the little discussed alliance between the Beijing-based Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Massachusetts-based Harvard University, who are alleged to have teamed up to be in a position to someday penetrate India’s social landscape, according to the investigative book.

Before we dig deep into how the CCP-Harvard alliance is allegedly targeting the Indian subcontinent, it is crucial to understand why the Anglo-American West and the Big East have been eyeing this country for the past several decades. The collective West is led by Washington, while the Big East – which comprises China, Japan, and South Korea – is spearheaded by Beijing.

Now, while the US-China Cold War 2.0 has emerged as the single biggest geopolitical conflict of our times, it is worth noting that corporate elites from both these imperialist powers are – strangely – working hand in hand when it comes to targeting India.

This unusual coming-together of sections of the bitter rivals demonstrates that both the Wild West and the Big East have something in common in their pursuit of a foothold in India – both of them eye India’s welcoming marketplace and its enormous workforce as a grand opportunity to mint a colossal amount of money.  

These two powers, amid the diplomatic standoff, have already laid their cards on the table. More than 17,400 foreign corporations, mostly from the US and China, currently have a direct and indirect physical presence in the Indian economy, minting an incredible sum of collective profits and repatriating much of that straight to their home economies.

From a purely selfish perspective, corporate cartels from the two geopolitical poles – China and America – are both well aware of how lucrative it is for them and for their native economies to have a deep and wide business footprint on the Indian subcontinent.

The plot beyond economics

Interestingly, beyond the practice of predatory corporate domination through FDI and international trade, ‘Chimerica’ – an inventive portmanteau of the words ‘China’ and ‘America’ – has also been seeking to unruffle the Indian social matrix by other means. Let’s understand them first.

In order to perpetually have a psychological upper-hand, the US Deep State is infamously suspected of carrying out various covert operations targeting India, often buttressing it with the spiteful diplomatic rhetoric slamming Dilli. Much in the same vein, China hardly hides its ambition to routinely ignite Indo-Chinese border disputes, while it also runs multiple India-focused covert operations to trigger instability.

With the point well established about why both Beijing and Washington are desperate to deepen their presence here, let’s move on to the core topic: the alleged coming-together of China’s ruling party and its military on one hand, and Harvard and America’s other top Ivy League superstars on the other.

The theory that Harvard mandarins and China’s ruling elites are presumably working closely for various purposes – including to target India – is articulated in the book Snakes in the Ganga: Breaking India 2.0, written by geopolitical observers, Rajiv Malhotra and Vijaya Viswanathan.

Unlike many other commentaries on foreign meddling in India, this particular book cites a hefty bunch of evidence, links, and references to back the foreign-meddling claims made in it. There are two significant takeaways from the book for critical-thinking Indians who are researching ongoing foreign interference.

One, how members of China’s corporate elites, who have well-established links with the ruling CCP, are injecting money into Harvard allegedly to reshape the US institution’s orientation. And two, how this development is not good news for India because it allegedly paves the way for the China-Harvard alliance to penetrate the Indian subcontinent.

In fact, as the book and similar in-depth reportage indicate, Harvard and several other US academic hubs have close ties with Beijing as well as with high-ups in the Chinese military fold, and they receive funding from them. What should be of particular concern to Dilli is that these US universities have reportedly delivered military technology to China over the past.

Origin of China-Harvard alliance

In their book, Malhotra and Viswanathan recall an important piece of history, narrating the origin of alleged Chinese meddling in America’s top-rung universities. The book claims that China’s entry into Harvard happened in May 1996 through a Hong Kong businesswoman, Nina Kung. “Her $3.3 billion in assets made her one of the richest women in the world at that time. She had high-level contacts in Beijing and had already cultivated close ties with then US president, Bill Clinton, having become involved in his campaign fundraising. Kung’s initial $7 million donation to Harvard was just the beginning of a long collaboration on terms set by China. Her programme at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government won startlingly rapid approval from the top brass of the People’s Liberation Army.”

China bankrolls US academic centres through an intricate network of state-controlled entities and corporate lobbies, according to research cited in the book. A passage reads, “One of the donors at Ash Center is the China Southern Power Grid Company Ltd., wholly owned, operated, and funded by the Chinese government, and whose management is directly appointed by China’s central government. Further donations also come from New World China Enterprises Project, a Chinese company whose board is composed almost entirely of CCP members. Its chairman and executive director, Cheng Kar-Shun, for example, has served as a standing committee member of the CCP’s Political Consultative Conference.”

In fact, a Bloomberg analysis found that three leading American universities have been receiving various kinds of funding from China during the last 10 years. They are Harvard University, the University of Southern California, and the University of Pennsylvania. California-headquartered Stanford University is reportedly another major US educational body collaborating with Chinese entities.

A similar revelation about financial dealings between Beijing-backed Chinese businesspeople and US universities came from a 2018 Hoover Institution report. The exposition shows that an organisation called CUSEF (China United States Exchange Foundation) bankrolls multiple American educational institutions, think tanks, and NGOs. In fact, according to Malhotra’s 2022 book, the Harvard University’s HKS (Harvard Kennedy School) is reportedly known to have a partnership with CUSEF, with a mission to facilitate China-focused funding policy research, media coverage in the US, and exchange programmes.

Why India needs to watch out

Now, the question is, in which ways and how deeply is all this not a welcome development for India and its national security? As Malhotra and Viswanathan write in their book, “We were not surprised to find that China occupies a much stronger position than India at Harvard. But we discovered something far more worrisome: China’s inroads into Harvard are also a gateway for it to penetrate India with influence and subversion. Harvard’s dealings with the CCP are deep, extensive, and old. This is now being discussed as a risk to American national security, but as we shall see, it is also a risk to India.”

The book Snakes in the Ganga claims that with its sway in India, Harvard has “penetrated Indian civic society”. It is “collecting sensitive data” on Indians, receiving support from “Indian billionaires”, and “calling the shots” on the future direction of “Indian policies”.

“Through its ecosystem of India-based centres, Harvard is building a repository of India-specific knowledge in areas of public health, business, social sciences, Indology, history, humanities, and government, which can be strategically deployed to… further weaken India,” claims a passage from the book.

The troubling military link

What is most worrisome for India from a strategic defence viewpoint is the indirect and convoluted link between the Chinese military and stakeholders at Harvard, according to the book’s authors as well as investigative reports in multiple news outlets.

An investigation by the US-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, published on December 9, 2021, shows that American universities retain links with Chinese schools that support China’s military build-up. The probe was published under the title, ‘The Middle Kingdom Meets Higher Education’.

Similarly, an investigation conducted in 2021 by the finance monitor, Washington Free Beacon, discovered that from 2014-2019, multiple organisations with ties to China’s military high-ups gave more than $88 million to various American universities. And some of those organisations allegedly had a role in cyberattacks spying activities targeting the US.

Another investigation in 2021, carried out by the finance watchdog RWR Advisory Group, revealed that three Chinese telecommunications entities – China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile – had close ties with their country’s military circles. And all three of these state-owned Chinese companies had some kind of partnership or the other with American educational institutions.

The big question is, in this backdrop of suspected links between American academic entities and the Chinese military, how safe is it for India to unsuspectingly have collaborations with such US educational institutions? Is there a risk that the Chinese military, through its ties with US academic organisations, will seek to penetrate the Indian social landscape?

Having used the economic, diplomatic, and military routes in the past, is ’Chimerica’ now using academia as the ways and means to meddle in India’s affairs? At least, that’s what Malhotra’s work and a host of investigations and reports want us to be wary about.

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