#BoycottChina Decoded: Do we have a chance?

Off late #BoycottChina and #BanTikTok hashtags have gained a lot of momentum in the backdrop of the border skirmishes between India-China. We got down to decoding what’s been happening on the social platforms, and the potential of going totally swadesi in the days to come.

In the early 1950s, the then Prime Minister Pt Jawaharlal Nehru had popularised the catchphrase of ‘Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai’. By 1962, India faced China on its eastern borders in subzero battlegrounds on the backs of a largely misled diplomatic policy with its ambitious neighbour. This defeat would turn out to be a watershed moment in India’s modern history.

Fast forward to 2020 and India, once again, faces its feisty neighbour on its Northern borders as the two countries come to a military stand off. This time the cacophony to ban China from India has grown louder as trade relations, and investments come under greater scrutiny. And these sentiments have trickled over from purely nationalistic headlines in the media to calls of the Chinese boycott even on social media. From Millenials to Gen-Z addicted to Chinese products, many seem to be undergoing a collective reawakening and change of heart.

As China faces the global ignominy for subverting vital information on the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, which first surfaced in Wuhan, now coupled with the border stand-off has flared up emotions across government circles and India’s keyboard warriors.

#BoycottChina and #BoycottChineseProducts were just some of the reigning hashtags on Instagram and Twitter over the last week as India not only made righteous self-determination to become ‘aatma nirbhar’ (self-reliant), but also revisit the levels of Chinese investments in India.

The call to action first articulated by educator and innovator Sonam Wangchuk (on whom Aamir Khan’s character Rancho in the 3 Idiots was based on), soon found popular resonance as netizens and celebrities joined in on the cause. From Milind Soman, Arshad Warsi, Ranvir Shorey to Atul Kasbekar, many voiced their allegiance to the cause, as pressure developed on celebrities such as Deepika, Ranbir, Katrina, and others against promoting Chinese brands in India.

Yet in a world of 2020 e-commerce, where Indians vote with their wallets, several Chinese companies hold a lot of sway here. 18 of the 30 of India’s billion-dollar startups are funded by China. Names include market favourites such as Byju’s, Zomato, Ola Cabs, Paytm and Flipkart. Almost 73% of smartphone sales in India (as of March 2020) came from the sales of Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme and Vivo — all Chinese companies.

Earlier last month, Google Play banned an Indian app started by a few engineers called ‘Remove China Apps,’ which was downloaded over 5 million times since May. This app would identify all apps made by Chinese software companies and delete them on android phones in lieu of data security and piracy concerns. Allegations have always emerged on the potential access to users’ personal data on these platforms by the Chinese government and long-standing censorship diktats of the Communist Party of China.

This week, for example, the Chinese censors deleted PM Modi’s speech from the official account of the Ministry of External Affairs on the Chinese Twitter-clone Sina Weibo. Several Tik-Tokers have also found the rise of anti-India drivel on the platform as their own clips against China were scrubbed from the platform.

In September last year, the Guardian had published a report citing leaked documents that revealed how TikTok censored videos that it deemed as anti-China. Similarly, in a report to the Washington Post, ex-employees of the social media platform revealed that Chinese workers had the final call on flagged videos. Last year, the company reported it had over 120 million monthly active users from India.

Yet, this call for a boycott is not as easily delivered as expected by the Indian brethren. While China accounts for 9% of India’s exports, it also accounts for about 18% of India’s merchandise imports. About 20% of auto components and 70% of electronic components come from China. While India can make a switchover to Swadesi alternates in time, an ad hoc immediate switchover is near impossible. Yet, the Confederation of All India Traders has called for the boycott of 3000 Chinese-made products that have Indian equivalents.

But going back to the increasing online activism in India, several internet users continue to clamour for their demand to ban TikTok. The ratings for the app have nosedived from its earlier 4.6 stars to 2 with an influx of netizens downrating the mobile app. Meanwhile, TikTok Lite has got bashed to a 1.1 rating on the Play Store. A petition asking for a ban on the app has got more than 120,631 sign-ups.

While the government clarified that it hasn’t asked Apple or Google to ban the app from its marketplaces as cited by a fake government order that’s now gone viral, Indian look alike apps such as ‘Chingari’ now have reported a surge in their users. Chingari, for example, launched in 2019 saw almost 5,00,000 downloads in a short span of the last three days.

While the call to buy “Indian” is no doubt a fantastic initiative, it remains to be seen how we get on road to this possibility with minimum friction. Meanwhile, the record needs to be set straight with respect to those jingoistic politicians trying to hijack the prevailing national sentiment for their own myopic political reasons. Earlier, the call by Go-Corona-famous Union Minister Ramdas Athawale’s bizarre statement to ban all restaurants and hotels selling Chinese foods got rightly ridiculed. If a national-level policy needs to be taking strongholds, it already has the public perception to its aid. Maybe it’s time to move to faster gears.

© 2020 Gut & Flow Media Pvt Ltd.

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