From the Viewsroom

The ‘Boycott China’ mirage

Venky Vembu | Updated on June 03, 2020 Published on June 03, 2020

Even if voluntary, the campaign is impractical and uneconomical

At a time when border tensions between India and China have escalated on the Ladakh frontier, there has been an upsurge in nationalist sentiments in media outlets in both countries. In India, these sentiments have additionally found expression in a nascent consumer movement for the boycott of Chinese products and services. A handful of celebrities, among them Milind Soman and Arshad Warsi, have gone public with their stated intention to boycott Chinese-made products, and Soman claimed he had gone off TikTok, the social media platform that is quite the rage among a slice of Indians. There is inherently nothing wrong in such voluntary consumer-led boycott campaigns, and in fact there have been such calls — in India and elsewhere — in the past. However, given the extent to which China has become central to global supply chains for products and services, a full-scale boycott is impractical — and inconvenient at an individual level. That is the central theme of a book by Sara Bongiorni, a writer who, in 2007, recorded her (and her family’s) experience of trying to live in the US without buying anything produced in China. In A Year Without ‘Made in China’: One Family’s True Life Adventure in the Global Economy, she noted that the experiment turned their daily lives upside down while looking for alternatives to Chinese-made goods. It also inflicted a high financial cost on the family, given that non-Chinese alternatives — where they did exist — were more expensive.

Then again, as with the rare elements that go into mobile phones, there are many products that have Chinese inputs that don’t come with a ‘Made in China’ label.

The government-led Aatmanirbhar Bharat campaign for a self-reliant India has an unstated but obvious intent to reduce dependence on ‘Made in China’ goods and services. But unless a critical mass of Indians can be persuaded to voluntarily pay more in the perceived nationalistic cause of inflicting economic pain on China, such ‘boycott Chinese’ campaigns may not meet that objective, even if they make for feel-good ‘virtue signalling’.

Published on June 03, 2020
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