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Huawei’s Infiltration into Indian Tech Institutes Raises National Security Concerns

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In a scenario echoing global concerns over Chinese influence in education and technology, India grappled with Huawei, a major Chinese tech company, infiltrating its premier educational institutions. Recent revelations shed light on how the Indian government promptly curtailed Huawei’s advancements into the country’s leading tech schools, particularly the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).

The unfolding situation followed the deadly clashes at the Galwan Valley between Indian and Chinese forces. Huawei, labeled a “national security risk” by the US government, initiated collaborations with various Indian educational institutions, including the prestigious IITs, signaling its strategic entry into India’s research and development landscape.

Huawei’s engagements included signing Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) for groundbreaking collaborations, discussions with prestigious institutions like IIT Roorkee and IISc Bangalore, and talks with IIT Madras. The sectors under consideration were crucial for India’s technological advancement, spanning big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and telecommunications — areas integral to Huawei’s global portfolio.

Alarmed by the potential implications on national security, the Union education ministry, despite not typically overseeing MoUs of autonomous IITs, flagged the matter to intelligence agencies. The response was swift, with an unequivocal directive to IITs, emphasizing the imperative to abstain from any academic or research collaboration with Huawei. While formal orders were not issued, each IIT was sensitized to the national security concerns, prompting them to not only refrain from ongoing discussions but also to wrap up any existing joint research and development projects with Huawei.

Several research projects funded generously by Huawei across various government institutes were swiftly brought to a close. The National Institute of Technology in Rourkela, for instance, revoked a September 2020 MoU signed with Huawei for AI talent development. Private institutes, including the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore (IIITB), dissociated themselves from the Chinese company. Additionally, every association linked to Huawei, from MoUs to innovation centers, came under scrutiny, resulting in withdrawals or stalled executions.

The Huawei-India story has roots dating back almost two decades when the Chinese company established its presence in India in 1999. Over the years, it became the first Chinese company to set up a full-fledged R&D center in Bengaluru by 2015, investing $170 million and recruiting a substantial workforce. Huawei’s engagement with educational institutions intensified, with collaborations on scholarships, talent development, and innovation hubs.

The situation escalated in 2019 when Huawei sought collaborations with IITs and IISc, targeting the top echelons of India’s education system for cutting-edge research and human resources. However, the Indian government’s vigilance, particularly in the wake of border tensions, prompted a quick and decisive response to safeguard national interests.

In retrospect, analysts speculate that Huawei’s interest in Indian educational institutions may have extended beyond collaborative research. The company’s efforts to gain insights into India’s R&D matrix and potentially influence policy directions in emerging technologies through IITs came to a halt with the government’s intervention.

The concerns over Huawei’s reach were not confined to public institutes; private institutions like IIITB also severed ties with the company, emphasizing the comprehensive nature of the national security and foreign influence concerns.

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