It was reported in the Indian news media last Wednesday (29 Mar) that over the past few months, Indian journalists and researchers at leading think-tanks in India have been approached by purportedly Chinese agents, with monetary offers to cooperate on projects or to write articles on security and foreign policy.
The suspected Chinese agents were said to be using fake credentials, claiming to be from Singapore-based institutions, contacting these journalists and researchers through e-mails, LinkedIn, Facebook or WhatsApp.
In one of the reported incidents, two “persons” by the name of Julia Chia, a “senior programme manager” with the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Jian Qiang Wong, a “researcher” at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) were said to have contacted journalists and researchers based in New Delhi and Mumbai, and offered to cooperate on new projects with monetary incentives.
“Wong” apparently messaged a Mumbai-based journalist on LinkedIn saying, “So I wanna build a cooperation relation with you. Are you interested? Would you like to write something for me?”
“Chia”, who claimed to be working on a weekly journal for NUS, said she sought guest writers who could focus on “hot events happening in the Asia-Pacific region” and promised that the analysis will be “only for internal and limited reference”.
The Indian media then contacted Singapore High Commissioner Simon Wong with regard to the incident and upon checking, it was found that “Wong” and “Chia” do not exist.
The Singapore High Commissioner later clarified in a tweet saying the accounts of the two said individuals are fake.
He tweeted, “To be clear: These accounts, which proclaim to be from Singapore, are fake. These individuals do not work for NUS or Singapore think-tanks. The Singapore-India people-to-people ties are strong enough for such scams to be quickly exposed.”
To be clear: These accounts, which proclaim to be from Singapore, are fake. These individuals do not work for NUS or Singapore think-tanks. The 🇸🇬🇮🇳 people-to-people ties are strong enough for such scams to be quickly exposed. – HC Wong @htTweets https://t.co/jevH6sWcCQ
— Singapore in India (@SGinIndia) March 29, 2023
Indian media reported that it was a clandestine propaganda operation by China. The targeted people were mainly those writing on issues like Indo-China, Indo-Japan or Indo-Pacific ties. It was further reported that they were offered payments of up to US$400 for each article written.
Indian security officials said that such a method had been commonly used by the Chinese in similar operations conducted in countries such as Australia, Canada, and the US. The objective is to influence prominent Indian journalists and researchers in their writings.