By Arun Srivastava
India banned 59 Chinese smartphone applications, including some popular ones like TikTok, Shareit, UCBrowser, Club Factory and Cam Scan this Monday. The reasons cited by the Modi government has indeed been of very serious nature. If the officials of the Modi government are to be believed these apps were endangering the security integrity and sovereignty of India. Obviously any government which has been concerned of the national interest would not allow theses apps to be operational in public domain.
These apps nevertheless were in use for quite a long time. Many social activists and eminent persons had objected to the use and contents of these apps. But the Modi government did not any attention to these complaints and allowed these apps to operate.
On May 4, 2015, Narendra Modi’s website proudly announced: “PM Narendra Modi now on Weibo!” Weibo is among the 59 apps banned on Monday night. Modi’s first post on Weibo said: ‘Hello China! Looking forward to interacting with Chinese friends through Weibo’.”
The website said: “In a move that will enhance communication with sisters and brothers of China, Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi made a debut on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo. This is first of a kind attempt by a leader across India.” In subsequent years, Weibo was Modi’s preferred platform to extend birthday greetings to Xi Jinping, except last year when he wished the Chinese leader in person.
These apps would certainly not have been banned, if the urban middle class supporters of Modi would not have demanded a ban on the sale of the Chinese products in Indian markets. After the Golwan fiasco a section of the Indian middle class, precisely the supporters of Modi had resorted to smashing and breaking the Chinese goods. This message was loud and clear for Modi. To keep his supporters happy and in good mood, he took the decision to distance himself from the Chinese goods and products.
No doubt it was a tough decision but he has to make in the interest of his vote bank. This decision has nothing to do with the intrusion of the Chinese troops. This sudden change of heart of Modi and his government clearly underlines the political design behind this move. Modi’s earlier observation that Chinese did not enter into Indian territory is testimony of his deep rooted friendship with Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Analysts say the Indian government’s ban on 59 apps developed by Chinese companies will eventually hurt India’s technology and internet start-ups when they lose Chinese investment.
The other constraining factor for India is the high quantum of bilateral trade between the two countries. With bilateral trade at almost $90 billion a year, it is around 45 times more than that with Pakistan. Moreover, numerous Chinese imports are used as intermediary products in Indian industries ranging from pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and electronics. So, curbing imports on these will be tantamount to India losing out too. It is clear from this — when it comes to India’s dealing with Pakistan and China under WTO, what’s sauce for the goose is definitely not sauce for the gander.
The vice minister of General Administration of Customs of China (GACC) Zou Zhiwu, who released the annual trade figures to the media, said China-India bilateral trade totalled to 639.52 billion yuan (about $92.68) which is 1.6 per cent increase year on year. China’s exports to India increased by 2.1 per cent last year totalling to 515.63 billion yuan while India’s imports to China decreased by 0.2% totalling to 123.89 billion yuan, he said. The trade deficit for India in 2019 was $391.74 billion yuan, he said. The bilateral trade in 2018 totalled to $95.7 billion raising hopes of India-China trade touching the landmark $100 billion in 2019. But the total trade amounted to $92.68 billion last year about $3 billion less than 2018. The Chinese exports in dollar terms to India last year amounted to $74.72 billion compared to $76.87 in 2018. India’s exports to China amounted to $17.95 billion against $18.83 billion last year.
The fact is “growth in bilateral investment has not kept pace with the expansion in trading volumes between the two countries.” While both countries have emerged as top investment destinations for the rest of the world, mutual investment flows are yet to catch up. According to the Ministry of Commerce of China, Chinese investments in India between January-September 2019 were to the tune of $0.19 billion and cumulative Chinese investment in India till the end of September 2019 amounted to $5.08 billion”. Cumulative Indian investment in China until September 2019 is $0.92 billion, it said.
The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures.
The presence of Chinese investors in India’s high-tech start-up ecosystem has secured the country a significant standing in recent years not only due to funds brought to the emerging market but also due to the provision of cutting-edge technologies and rich experience to scale up businesses.
For India, cutting Chinese influence from its market is difficult, as Chinese tech companies are betting high on India’s rising tech scene. By the end of 2019, more than half of India’s 31 unicorn companies had been invested in by Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent, according to the Iron Pillar Fund, a fund management company in India.
Chinese non-financial investment in India grew 9.7 times from 2020-18, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce. Investment in technology stood out with total investment surpassing $8 billion. Targeting Chinese-backed apps would mean a heavy blow to the Indian start-up ecosystem, analysts warned.
ByteDance’s TikTok, which sees India as its biggest overseas market, is among the apps now banned. It has generated more than 600 million downloads in India as of April 29, accounting for about 30 percent of its total global downloads, according to mobile app market research firm Sensor Tower.
TikTok said it has been invited to meet with concerned Indian government stakeholders for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications.
“These apps have provided great convenience to the lives and economic activities of Indian people. They play key roles in improving Indian society’s functional efficiency,” says Zhao Jianglin, an expert on Southeast Asian affairs at the National Institute of International Strategy under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. According to her the ban would eventually become “a mere scrap of paper” as these apps have already become ingrained in Indian people’s lives and will therefore be difficult to remove.
Modi government true speaking has resorted to such action only to assuage the feelings of die hard supporters and nothing else. Middle class is so obsessed with its own gains that does not bother to look back. Already the Chinese government has indicated to tell Chinese businesses to abide by international and local laws-regulations. (IPA Service)