Chinese App Ban: India’s Digital Strike in China

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The rising tensions between India and China proved fatal to the Chinese industry. The Indian Government took a big step by banning 59 Chinese mobile applications. These apps included popular social media platform TikTok and apps like UC Browser. The Indian Government cited that these apps posed a threat to the country’s “sovereignty and integrity”.

These Chinese apps share user data with the Chinese intelligence agencies, irrespective of where they work. This norm poses a great threat to India’s integrity and privacy, which is why India banned these apps. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian also reacted to India’s ban. He stated that the Chinese government was “strongly concerned” about the ban and it is India’s responsibility to “uphold the legitimate rights of international investors.”

How it all started?

It all started with the killings of 20 Indian soldiers after weeks-long stand-off on 15 June 2020. As per the media reports, it was the deadliest clash between India and China in 45 Years after the Indo-China war. Post this incident, there was a large uproar among masses to boycott Chinese products. The call for banning products quickly influenced various sectors. On 25 June, the Delhi Hotel and Restuarant Owners Association banned Chinese nationals. In Delhi alone, Chinese nationals got banned in over 3000 hotels and guesthouses. On 17 June, the ‘Confederation of All India Traders’ (CAIT) released a list of over 450 categories of Chinese products it planned to boycott over “continued border skirmishes.”

Boycotting as a gesture of protest is not a new concept in India. ‘Swadeshi Movement’ during the Indian independence movement proved to be one of the biggest events in Indian history. The movement was to boycott the exploitative and controlling economic system of Britishers. The movement aimed to achieve self-independence or Purna Swaraj from British rule. After the June 15 clash, many citizens started protesting against Chinese goods across the country. This included destroying Chinese branded TVs, damaging Chinese toy store, and burning effigies of Xi Jinping.

Implications

In India, these apps accounted for 5% of total installs from Apple and Google play store in April-June 2020. TikTok the most popular among these apps, had 16.4 million new installs in June itself. TikTok has over 200 million active users in India (40% of its Global users). Harish Bijoor, a Bengaluru-based brand consultant said that “TikTok earns a certain amount of revenue from the Indian market. It is quite likely they are earning ₹2.5 crores in revenue per day. For whatever period the ban stays, they will lose the revenue.”

Alibaba-owned UC browser had over 430 million active users globally. It had 130 million Indian users and was the second leading mobile browser in India. Alibaba along with the other banned apps also faced revenue loss and its users as well. Moreover, e-commerce websites such as Amazon and Flipkart have agreed to display “country of origin” for all goods sold online in India. This is due to huge customer demand to demarcate and single out Chinese products. The Indian government has also mandated country of origin information on its massive Government e-Marketplace (GeM) for all government purchases. It has also enabled a Made in India filter on the platform in a bid to promote local products. In a survey conducted by LocalCircles, 87% of Indians said that they are ready to boycott Chinese products for the next year.

Similar Demand in the US

After India’s action, there has been a similar demand in the US to ban TikTok. Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham urged the US to do the same. “Leading the way, Where’s the US? India bans dozens of Chinese apps including TikTok” she tweeted. Peter Navarro, Assitant to the US President for Trade and Manufacturing Policy also tweeted. He said- “Would that be the same Chinese TikTok that was used to tank attendance at the Tulsa Rally?” He said this tagging report on India’s decision to ban these Chinese apps. US National Security Advisor, Robert O’Brien also said that the Chinese Government is using TikTok for its purpose. Two bills on banning federal government officials from using TikTok which are pending in the US Congress might also gain some momentum after India’s decision.

Soon after the government imposed a ban on Chinese apps, PM Narendra Modi also left micro-blogging site Weibo. He removed his photograph and all the posts from Weibo’s account. Moreover, this move was highly discussed in Chinese media and what made him do so. All these reactions from the Indian government and globally generated a wave of panic among Chinese masses.

Author’s Perspective

Hours after the ban on 59 Chinese apps, TikTok India’s head Nikhil Gandhi issued a statement. “TikTok continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law. It does not share user information with any foreign government, including the Chinese government”, he said. Moreover, the officials stated that the government’s decision is “interim” in nature. The firms have to clarify their data-sharing norms before the government. Once all the requirements are complied with, then the government might lift the ban.

Given the situation, these apps not getting any free-hand for the time being. But this does not imply that these apps will remain banned forever. The government also stated that its main concern is the data sharing policy of these apps and it can’t infringe privacy, integrity, and sovereignty of the nation.

India needs to revisit its IT laws and amend the policies as well. The government should not allow these apps in the country in the first place only if there is some data-sharing policy associated with them. India first needs to develop its applications and software if it wants to ban foreign apps.

Conclusion

A privacy breach is not a new concept, the Facebook-US election being an example to the same. In this technology era, any person can access anyone’s data without even moving an inch from his place. This calls for stricter policies and better infrastructure to provide security to the nation as a whole. Hence, if India does not become self-dependent soon, then Atmanirbhar Bharat will remain a dream only.


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