Chiang Mai [Thailand], October 2 (ANI): China is trying to leverage the expanding health surveillance in Asia due to COVID-19 pandemic to gather information and using it to expand its power and influence in the strategic region, according to a report in Asia Times.
"China is trying to tap and leverage into expanding health surveillance in regional countries for not altogether clear reasons, according to officials familiar with the situation," the report read.
The report comes at a time when privacy watchdog, Britain's Verisk Maplecroft, has identified Asia as the world's surveillance hotspot, where the risk of privacy breaches is rising from COVID-19 health surveillance and the related retention of citizens' private data.
Among the worst-scoring Asian nations in the Verisk Maplecroft's Right to Privacy Index were Thailand, Pakistan, China, Myanmar, Cambodia, India and the Philippines.
According to the report, Thailand, which is a crucial link for China's Belt and Road ambitions across mainland Southeast Asia, is reportedly being "squeezed" to share its collected data with Beijing.
Thai health authorities in Thailand have launched tracing apps known as "Thai Chana" and "Mor Chana" to track COVID-19 carriers and contain local outbreaks.
As of mid-June, the Thai Chana platform had more than 24 million users in a nation of 69 million. In April, Mor Chana, or "doctors win", was launched as a parallel contact tracing app featuring COVID-19 self-assessment features, location tracking via GPS and Bluetooth Low Energy technology, and an alert function if an identified infected person is nearby.
The report accused China's security agencies resident in Thailand of tapping the wealth of personal data that Thai Chana and Mor Chana have compiled. The date could be used to monitor and surveil for purposes other than health control, Thai officials told Asia Times on condition of anonymity.
Chinese envoys have recently pressed their Thai counterparts to share the app's information, ostensibly to control domestic outbreaks of COVID-19 in China. China's security agencies have reportedly requested personal data of not only Thai citizens but also foreign residents in the kingdom, the officials said.
The agencies are said to have informed Thai authorities that any decision to allow Chinese tourists to resume travel to Thailand would be contingent on sharing Thai Chana and Mor Chana information.
In neighbouring Myanmar, local journalists and civil society workers openly talk about Chinese "journalists" and "academics" who frequently approach them for information that seems to go beyond the scope of normal journalistic or academic activities.
The intelligence war in Southeast Asia is heating up at the same time as shadier, private Chinese interests are cashing in on the pandemic's emerging new normal and rising state surveillance.
For instance, the remote Thai-Myanmar border town of Mae Sot which was a once-bustling trading town which has been virtually closed for business since March owing to COVID-19 pandemic.
While border trade has slowed down with restrictions on border crossing, the Chinese nationals running much of the area's riverine gaming industry have come up with an innovative idea to continue the business.
In March, Mae Sot shopping malls and department stores began to require customers to register their names and phone numbers to trace potential carriers and spreaders of the virus.
"Soon thereafter, Chinese businessmen who previously ran the border casinos moved to buy the notebooks from the store owners, according to local businessmen in Mae Sot. Before long, hundreds if not thousands of people who had patronized the Mae Sot stores received SMS messages on their mobile phones inviting them to gamble online," the report noted.
The report said that the fallout of this entangled contest of health security, state surveillance and geopolitical intrigue is likely to have even longer-lasting effects on the region's political and economic stability than the virus itself. (ANI)