Recreating the Chinese monster

Boycotting all Chinese products is neither possible, nor desirable


June 3, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

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Remove China Apps, an app that claimed to remove Chinese applications from Android phones, was downloaded about 5 million times before being taken down by Google

Ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, China-baiters around the world have been hyperactive putting the blame for everything that’s not right with the world at Beijing’s doorstep.

For long, China has been one of the favourite targets for many Indians looking to blame a ‘foreign hand’ for the country’s long-standing and huge problems. In fact, China ranks just below Pakistan in the list of countries preferred by hate-mongers or apologists for the government of the day, trying to cover up for our own short comings by blaming them on a foreign power.

Recently, a video, made by a duo that goes by the name AbhiandNiyu went viral on social media in India. The video has amassed over 11 million views just in four days. The duo tries to pass the video off as the work of ‘unbiased and professional’ journalists, with several ‘facts’ and ‘plausible explanations’ that outline the anti-China story currently doing the rounds, not just in India, but indeed in many countries around the world.

However, even a cursory scrutiny of the various claims and statements made in the video reveal the hollowness of the entire video that ends up blaming China for everything wrong in the world today. In a video that is purported to be current and with latest information, it starts talking of the Chinese aggression in East and South China Sea, as well as on the Indian borders which have been a regular feature of the geopolitics in the region for over a decade now. Then the duo talks of the sheer size and strength of the Chinese economy and how it is using to buy political capital in countries around the world, by building overpriced infrastructure projects and thus drown the recipients in a debt trap, another bit of outdated news as most countries have been sceptical of the infamous Chinese gift horse. After parroting many similar old and several more inaccurate ‘facts’, the video ends with a call for a total boycott of Chinese products.

This, too, is nothing new in India. Frequently, over the past decade or so, similar anti-Chinese sentiments have been fanned by a wide variety of players, including the Indian industry that has long felt threatened by Chinese industry that has not just financial muscle, but is also much more innovative and competitive than them.

However, Chinese business practices are no different from those of any other in today globalised world and they cannot be blamed for trying to assert themselves strategically and politically in a world that seems to be rudderless where each country is trying to project much more power than its actual weight. Yet, at least of late, China has become the bug bear of the world and much more so in India where now practically all the ills of the country are being blamed on the northern neighbour.

Most ‘analysts’ and ‘experts’ amongst the many anti-China hawks in the country tend to ignore actions and strategies of other countries that are no different from China’s. Relative light weight European nations like France and the United Kingdom are trying to assert themselves in parts of the world far removed from their frontiers. Both the countries retain controversial control over territories in Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean as well as the Atlantic and have gone to war to keep the lands. Just a few months ago, the UK was embroiled in an ugly spat with Mauritius over the British keeping part of its territory over 50 years after Mauritius gained independence. France has had to face violent protests from residents in Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros as well as the Pacific territory of New Caledonia whose immense nickel deposits explain the French keenness to keep an island that is over 17,000 km away from mainland France. The navies of the two nations frequently go close to Chinese waters and conduct military exercises all around the world. Interestingly, while AbhiandNiyu ‘accuse’ China of acquiring a military base in Djibouti, they conveniently forget that the country strategically located on the Horn of Africa has offered its territory to any country that could pay and is host to military bases for not just the US, UK, France but also is the site of the sole Japanese military presence outside the country and has also leased space to the United Arab Emirates for yet another base.

The United States has been ever more aggressive in projecting power around the world and flagrantly violated mandates of the United Nations and the global community to do whatever it considers a strategic necessity such as the Gulf War or the wars in Libya and Syria. Of late, under the leadership of an unpredictable President Donald Trump, the country has seemed to blow hot and cold over its role in the world beyond its borders. This makes the Chinese actions and reactions in its ‘backyard’ and beyond at least understandable, even if not necessarily desirable.

On the economy, too, governments around the world have long indulged in the same practices of promoting their industry and business in foreign countries and even today the success of all foreign visits by heads of state or government is gauged on the amount of business that the visitor brings to his country’s companies. They have also long helped their heavyweight firms in getting a foothold across the world. Hence, calling out China alone in such a scenario could only benefit other countries, mainly the US and EU, that do exactly what China is accused of doing.

And finally, calling for a boycott of Chinese products is impractical as it is almost impossible to achieve. Not just the Chinese companies firmly entrenched in various businesses in India, being one of the largest investors in the country, but China is also India’s second largest trading partner. Moreover, those calling for a boycott of the Chinese could do well to remember that China-made parts are ubiquitous of today’s globalised world and hence even products made in India often have large number of parts coming in from China.

A surprise member of the anti-China hawk gang in India has been Sonam Wangchuk, an engineer and education reformist whose story inspired 3 Idiots, a hit Bollywood production. In his video, Wangchuk calls, very unrealistically for a total boycott of all Chinese apps, including TikTok which has been downloaded over 300 million times in India and had over 120 million regular users in June last year. Incidentally, Mitron, an Indian ‘response’ to TikTok that was launched last week amid much hype was suspended within a day by Google from its Appstore due to security concerns. Similarly another app called Remove China Apps, that claimed to remove Chinese applications from Android phones has also been taken down by Google. It would take much more than a mere appeal for TikTok and other Chinese apps to be really impacted as they have caught the fancy not just of the urban users, but even penetrated several parts of remote India, including Wangchuk’s own Ladakh.

Equally unrealistically, he goes on to call for a total boycott of hardware made in China within a year.

Another aspect that these ‘analysts’ ought to remember is that in today’s world of start ups and new technology, China has been one of the largest investors in India, if not the largest and if the ‘boycott China movement’ has to have any real meaning it should also call for a withdrawal of Chinese capital from Indian unicorns. But that could lead to the entire start up scenario in the country crashing down. Not to mention that boycotting products made in a particular country would fall foul of Indian commitments under the World Trade Organisation rules and could see a dramatic response from Beijing which has never shied away from hitting back, especially at India.



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