India may use its right to invoke security exceptions under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) at the World Trade Organization (WTO), if required, to justify the ban on 59 Chinese mobile apps, including the popular TikTok app, imposed by the Centre earlier this week, a government official has said.

“India has not taken on any separate commitment on digital services at the WTO. So, China may find it difficult to establish its case against the ban. Whatever limited commitments India has taken on in the area of services are all contained in the GATS schedule. So, if required, India can invoke the security exceptions under GATS to justify the measure,” the official told BusinessLine.

The Chinese Embassy in New Delhi had earlier said in an official statement that the ban on 59 Chinese-origin mobile apps could be a breach of WTO rules, and the country should create a fair business environment. The ban was placed amidst the ongoing border tension between the two countries in Ladakh.

Apart from TikTok, other banned mobile apps from China popular with Indians include CamScanner, SHAREit, Baidu Map, Helo, Mi Community, Club Factory and WeChat.

India banned the 59 apps on June 29, stating that they posed a threat to the country’s sovereignty and security.

The relevant provision of the GATS security exception that India can invoke to defend the ban states that nothing in the agreement should be construed to prevent any Member from taking any action which it considers necessary for the protection of its security interests taken in time of war or other emergency in international relations.

The Centre, in consultation with lawyers, may keep a plan ready to combat any WTO threat that China may choose to confront India with, he added.

“The breach-of-national-security argument given by India to defend the ban is a strong one as all the identified Chinese mobile app companies do report to the Chinese government. As people tend to share sensitive information on the apps, there does exist a threat. But whether banning the apps is the best way to counter China is something that can be debated,” a Delhi-based trade expert said.