Indian researchers baited by fake “Singapore-based academics” in suspected China covert ops

SINGAPORE: Individuals with false credentials claiming to be from Singapore-based institutions have been approaching Indian journalists and researchers at top think tanks in what is suspected to be a covert Chinese operation, according to a report by the Hindustan Times.

The targeted researchers were contacted through email, LinkedIn, Facebook, or WhatsApp, with offers to collaborate on projects or write articles on security and foreign policy. They were reportedly offered up to S$400 (INR$ 32,800) for analytical articles.

Two of the individuals who approached the researchers identified themselves as 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). An investigation showed that both individuals did not exist and their accounts were fake.

Singapore’s High Commissioner in India, Simon Wong, has clarified that these accounts are fake, as 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.”

Hindustan Times has indicated that this could be a covert propaganda operation by China, as the targeted people often write on topics such as Indo-China, Indo-Japan, or Indo-Pacific ties.

Indian security officials noted that China had used these tactics in other countries such as Australia, Canada, and the US for their influence operations to push Beijing’s point of view. An unnamed security official told Hindustan Times:

“These people are looking for the kind of writing which is often induced by the Chinese State to create a narrative in its favour. They target people who have an understanding of strategic affairs or those who they think can publish or push views which favour China’s interests.”

Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management, told the publication that China has been cultivating individuals and groups worldwide to support its objectives. Noting that “China’s strategy documents state that their private organisations and NGOs have to back the CPC’s objectives anywhere in the world,” Mr Sahni reportedly said:

“China has been cultivating local influencers wherever it can. If they had greater freedom as in some of our neighbouring countries, China would have opened up friendship institutes that openly lobby for China’s position in areas of their interest.”

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