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Chinese outfit faces tighter visa scrutiny

Union govt has listed the body headed by a senior official of the ruling communist party as an entity of concern
An Indian Air Force chopper flies in the skies of of Leh, Ladakh, Tuesday, September 1, 2020, in the wake of India China face-off.

Reuters   |   New Delhi   |   Published 04.09.20, 03:01 AM

India has ordered tougher scrutiny of visa requests by a Chinese non-profit headed by a senior official of the ruling communist party, designating it as an entity of concern in a broader security sweep, sources involved in the matter say.

The closer monitoring of the Chinese Association for International Understanding (CAIFU) comes at a time when India and China are locked in their most serious border dispute in more than half a century.

The latest step also follows tougher scrutiny of Chinese cultural and language institutions such as Confucius Institutes in the US and partnerships in Australia.

Indian officials say the well-resourced Beijing-based group is tied to the Communist Party Central Committee’s United Front Work Department, which runs influence operations outside China by cultivating leaders, members of think tanks and the media.

In an internal memo, the Union government has listed the body as an entity of concern, signalling that its activities could run counter to national interests, said two officials aware of the matter.

The new category means that the body’s representatives, or groups it backs, will face a security clearance procedure before visas can be issued, said the officials, who sought anonymity because they were not authorised to speak in public.

“Visa requests will be looked at very closely, whether it is think-tankers, businessmen,” one of them added.

China’s foreign ministry said the association, headed by Ji Bingxuan, vice-chair of China’s largely rubber stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, was a non-profit engaged in friendly interaction with social bodies from all countries.

“It aims to promote mutual understanding and friendship between the Chinese people and people from all over the world, including India,” a ministry representative said in response to a Reuters query.

“It also strives to promote the exchange between cultures and civilisations.”

Organisations such as the India-China Economic and Cultural Council based in Beijing that have been sponsoring visas for CAIFU will also be subject to security clearances.

The move is part of a broader investigation into Chinese activities in India as political ties sour.

“We do know that the government is looking at various China-related outfits operating in India,” said Jayadeva Ranade, a China specialist formerly with the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence service.

Last month, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the centre that manages Chinese government-funded Confucius Institutes in the US would have to register as a 
foreign mission.CAIFU has traditionally been headed by a high-ranking Chinese leader, such as a current or former vice-chair of the National People’s Congress.

Its board comprises a current, and two former, vice ministers from the communist party’s International Liaison Department.

“It has a lot of resources at its disposal, intended to win friends and reduce risk for China abroad,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a China studies expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

A Chinese professor, however, said the new move would make little difference as India has traditionally been strict in handing visas to Chinese scholars and organisations.

“I think the Indian move is more to appease domestic nationalism than a real security threat about Chinese spies,” said Zhang Jiadong, director of the Center for South Asian Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. 

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