Aravind is editor of web-based think tank The Indian Analyst. He holds 28 US networking patents. He can be reached at
In his article, “Engage the Dragon” on August 23, 2005, Mr. M.K. Venu argued against an institutional bias against China and advocated more economic engagement with that nation. He cited a recent report from the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) that Huwawei Technologies, a major Chinese networking player, could indulge in cyber-spying. He poses whether anything can be more bizarre than this report.
What is bizarre is the question itself. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding on networking technologies know the number of loop-holes that exist in networking protocols that are successfully exploited by hackers. Apart from the standards-based loop-holes, there are potentials for “sleeper” modules that can be implanted in software that would allow limitless access to a network. In times of crises, these sleepers can be woken up to seriously terminate communication within state entities thereby allowing the aggressor a free hand to do whatever they want.
This is not to insinuate that Huwawei is indulging in cyber spying or wants to indulge in such unethical activities. As an emerging company, they compete globally and are present in many networks worldwide. They have been variously termed as “next-generation partner,” low-cost competitor, etc. by service providers and competitors. In fact, it is a respected adversary in many situations.
However, comparing them to American or European companies is disingenuous. Firstly, Western companies are publicly owned companies with a clearly ownership pattern. Huwawei’s publicly stated ownership information is dubious at best. Secondly, Western companies have an unmatched level of transparency and accountability to statutory organizations like the Security and Exchanges Commission while China has no such transparent mechanism. Thirdly, Western companies adhere to a rule of law and when such law is broken, the perpetrators are quickly brought to justice—Worldcom, Enron, etc are cases in point. There is no “rule of law” as we know in democratic societies in China and that makes it hard for redressing grievances. Fourthly, while American, European, and Indian PSU companies may have dealt with rogue regimes they do not function with impunity. Again, they are governed by the laws of the land that they are part of. However, it is not exactly known where Chinese policy on these issues is. Fifthly, his argument that the use of this vendor’s equipment in commercial applications somehow legitimizes its usage in Government applications does not make sense. The Government uses state-owned networks to enable communication between critical functions -- such as the security apparatus, diplomatic channels, intelligence, etc. Safeguarding that security is a different decision parameter to the lowest price-per-port decision made by commercial companies. Sixthly, a competitor sued Huwawei for intellectual property infringement in concept, execution, documentation, look-and-feel, and content. While, this lawsuit has since been dropped, it does raise serious doubts on the integrity of the company.
The other argument that Mr. Venu uses is to rely on what Chinese PM Wen Jiabo said about Indo-Sino co-operation in hardware and software. The Chinese Government has a habit of saying one thing and doing something else. The UN Security Council expansion, Oil and Natural Gas exploration, nuclear support to Pakistan, Defense bases in Myanmar and in the Andaman Sea, support for insurgents in the North East, support for Nepalese Maoist rebels who are creating collateral damage to India through their engagement with Indian Naxalite elements, lack of access to Chinese markets are all issues that imminently threat Indian interests. These are issues actively pursued by the Chinese Government with clear understanding on its implications for India. Mr. Venu bemoans an institutional bias against China and that any investments from China are viewed with suspicion. With such a track record, one can argue that any other country would have cut-off relations with such a neighbor. Strangely, it is surprising to read so many columnists argue for a more “open relationship” with China. Communist politicians would rather we be part of China. The operative paradigm must be “give and take” with clear benefits for India and not yet another “goodwill” gesture that can do further damage to Indian interests.
We have to learn from the historical blunders. The Byzantine Empire thought they could buy off Attila with gold and ended up financing his invasion that ultimately destroyed that civilization. Closer to home, we had a similar “Hindi-Chinni bhai bhai” euphoria that resulted in a war with China.