The clever Chinese, realising the public sentiment against their country in India, have begun printing the ‘Boycott China’ message on their apparels, hoping unsuspecting Indians may buy the products. As India and China grapple with a border row, an upsurge of nationalism in the South Asian country has created a backlash against China, with calls made to boycott Chinese apps and products.
Tensions between India and China spiked along their undelineated border after skirmishes last month between soldiers in the union territory of Ladakh and Sikkim led to a troop buildup on both sides. Some Indian media reports put troop numbers at 5,000 on both sides.
The anti-China rhetoric, for now, is contained to social media with the Indian leadership refraining from any direct criticism of Beijing. Analysts said the backlash could deepen if the row intensified.
An online campaign to boycott Chinese goods and technology with the hashtag #BoycottChineseProducts has been raging on Twitter with at least one famous personality, Milind Soman, a model and producer, announcing he had quit Tik Tok, the Chinese video-sharing social networking service.
Adding to it, an app to remove Chinese phone apps called Remove China Apps, created by Indian startup OneTouch AppLabs, quickly went viral.
The Android smartphone app was aimed at removing apps made by Chinese companies and listed Chinese-made apps like TikTok and CamScanner.
It was downloaded five million times and was the top trending free app in India till Google suspended it from the Play store on Wednesday (June 3).
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No reasons were cited for the removal.
The domestic narrative against China has been strengthened by a widely circulated video of bloodied Indian soldiers tied up on the ground and surrounded by Chinese soldiers. The video has not had any official recognition.
This is not the first time there has been a call to boycott Chinese goods, which erupts every time there is a border row or tensions with China.
Still Mr Nitin Pai, director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent centre for research and education in public policy, noted the calls were “more strident” this time around.
“Every new provocation merely strengthens an already widespread perception that China is not well-disposed towards India, and I have seen nothing from Beijing that addresses this. The cumulative effect can be seen in increasingly popular calls for boycott of Chinese goods and apps,” said Mr Pai.
“Despite official attempts to play things down, the mood is far more strident today than it was in 2017, during the Doklam incident. It is hard to see how Beijing thinks antagonising a billion young people as somehow being in its interests.”
India and China have a festering border row and ties nosedived after a border dispute exploded in 2017 over Doklam, an area strategically close to India’s Silliguri Corridor, a narrow stretch of land that connects the country’s north-east to the mainland.
The border standoff was resolved through diplomacy.
In spite of these tensions, economic ties remain strong with China, India’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade hitting $89.71 billion in the 2017-2018 financial year.
Chinese phones like Xiaomi and Oppo, for instance, are particularly popular in India.
“I think people have short-term memories. Once things go back to normal and the conflict is over, it’s all forgotten. People have an attraction to Chinese goods becausethey are cheap. They don’t care if it’s made in China,” noted Dr Rajeshwari Pillai Rajagopalan, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.
“It’s a temporary phenomenon. High nationalist sentiments are floating in India, just likethey are in China.”
Prof Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor in Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, noted: “I don’t see a large scale movement yet. Partly because there is no official endorsement. But if the border row persists, it may increase .”
The two countries have had military and diplomatic talks to resolve the border row. Each has blamed the other of blocking patrols in an area where there is no clear demarcation of where Indian and Chinese territories lie.
With early rounds of military talks failing, the two sides are set to hold a fresh round on June 6.
China has maintained that they can “properly resolve the problems between the two countries through dialogue and negotiation.”
In the first comment from the Indian leadership, defence minister Rajnath Singh told an Indian television channel Chinese soldiers were on the demarcation line, and noted: “There are differences in both sides’ perceptions of where the frontier runs. And the Chinese soldiers have arrived there in large numbers.
“India is doing what it needs to do in the circumstances.”