Think tanks, spy fronts and websites

China’s ‘institutes for strategic studies’

The website that first published the provocative article had the domain name www.iiss.cn—when that site was up it redirected to chinaiiss.org. In addition there is chinaiiss.com and at least one other site with IISS in it. They do not have anything remotely to do with the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (the IISS), nor do they have anything to do with the Chinese foreign ministry-linked China Institute for International Studies (CIIS, on the web at ciis.org.cn).

So what are iiss.com/chinaiiss.org/chinaiiss.com and CIISS?

According to TNN’s Saibal Dasgupta, the websites are run by one Kang Lingyi, and are a private initiative unconnected with any official body. Mr Kang says that it was a mere coincidence that his website had a name similar to the official think-tank, and that he has since changed it to China Center for International and Strategic Studies “to avoid confusion”.

FT reports that Mr Kang’s website is called China International Strategy Net and that he “took part in hacking into US government websites in 1999 following US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Sites such as his are part of the Communist party’s strategy to allow nationalism to grow to strengthen its political legitimacy.” (An issue of TIME magazine dated June 20th 2005 has more about Mr Kang and his patriotic initiatives online.)

What is truly remarkable—and this is China—is that Mr Kang was allowed to operate websites for several years with domain names similar to CIISS, the “official think-tank”. Because that is no ordinary think-tank—as Brahma Chellaney pointed out today, CIISS is a unit directly under the Second Department of the General Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army.

The Second Department is the PLA’s apex military intelligence department and, according to David Lampton “superior to all other civilian and military organs as a source of national and defence intelligence and military-related strategic analysis for the senior leadership”. Mr Lampton writes that “most Second Department researchers use a “front” affiliation when interacting with foreigners, notably China Institute of International Strategic Studies”. Its chairman is Lieutenant-General Xiong Guangkai, who is quoted as having threated a nuclear attack on Los Angeles in 1995.

There is nothing to connect Mr Kang’s CIISS with General Xiong’s CIISS. But the latter’s signals need to be taken a lot more seriously. Given the scope for confusion, the general would do well to ask Mr Kang to get a different domain name. Unless, of course, the reason not to is stronger.

9 thoughts on “Think tanks, spy fronts and websites”

  1. Offtopic comment deleted. I’m strictly enforcing the commenting policy stated in the caveat. – Ed

  2. “connect Mr Kang’s CIISS with General Xiong’s CIISS.”
    Xiong’s CIISS ?? Probably you meant CIIS which is the official one according to the first paragraph.

  3. So basically to simplify there are two groups – hardliners mainly in the PLA with their own “kind of connected” groups with “plausible deniablity” and the official groups who want to “save face” and don’t want to write anything “risky” that could blow up later.

  4. I don’t understand how publishing the article serves Chinese interests. Surely serious strategic objectives – dismembering a country of 1 billion+ is not simple – are not discussed in public.

    So was the article just a piece of “patriotic thinking” that the Chinese government endorses? Exaggerating an adversary’s threat is a great way to keep people together…

  5. The chinese govt. seems to have a need to blow hot and cold at the same time, with an eye towards the border talks that happened this month. In the past, the chinese have invited Indian heads of state in a grand diplomatic gesture and then proceeded to do a nuclear test of missile firing while that head of state is still around.

    Seems possible that they are “testing the waters” in India as to the response this article will elicit from Indians.

  6. “as having threated a nuclear attack on Los Angeles in 1995.”

    I think you meant ‘threatened’. Just pointing it out.

    Also, could this be proof that the enforcement of intellectual property laws in China is not up to desirable levels?

  7. ’62 debacle woke up the Indian establishment to ground realities and even made pompous blowhards like Shri JLN smell the coffee. We should be grateful for the wake up call because by the time Ayub wandered across the biorder in ’65, we were, mercifully, reasonably ready.

    Lets hope the PRC scare tactics elicit a similar wake-up among our somnambulent neta-ship without having to learnt he lesson after a ’62 style bloody-nose. The after-effects of Kargil – we still haven’t procured the Bofors style guns that were so immensely useful in that war – do not inspire optimism, admittedly.

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