Editorial

The ban on Chinese apps may turn out to be an effective strategic response

| Updated on July 01, 2020 Published on July 01, 2020

India’s emerged as the hotspot for apps like TikTok, UC Browser and Helo. The move to ban these apps might embolden other countries to take similar steps

There’s a touch of poetic justice in India’s provisional ban on Chinese apps that were building giant constituencies in this country. After all, China created its powerful app universe by excluding global players. Now, these apps, which feasted on a captive domestic market, are facing prospects of being shut out of one of their fastest-growing markets, even if it isn’t yet very lucrative. And make no mistake. Several of the 59 apps, which have been given 48 hours to reply why they shouldn’t be banned, have made it big in the Indian market. India’s emerged as the hotspot for apps like TikTok, UC Browser and Helo. TikTok has, in fact, been an extraordinary hit with 611 million lifetime downloads in India compared with only 196 million downloads in China itself. Downloads of TikTok and several other apps have zoomed in recent months when users, forced into lockdown, turned to their mobile phones in a bigger way than usual.

Should India be resorting to a trade war to avenge its casualties in the Ladakh high-altitude desert? Certainly, India should exploit all means at its disposal to show China it can’t be pushed around. And the ban on Chinese apps appears to have hit the Chinese where it might indeed hurt. The Chinese should also worry that India’s moves might embolden other countries to take similar steps. But India should be cautious and ensure its actions, like holding up customs consignments or shutting out apps, don’t fuel its reputation of being a country where rules can change arbitrarily and foreign players are at constant risk. At a different level, Chinese companies like Tencent and Alibaba have been big backers of Indian start-ups. Alibaba, for instance, has invested heavily in Paytm and also Zomato, Bigbasket and Rapido. Similarly, Tencent’s loaded up its portfolio with companies like Byju’s, Ola, Swiggy and Practo. India has a thriving start-up sector, only behind the US and China, boasting an estimated 26 unicorns with over $1-billion valuations, although several may have been badly hurt by Covid-19. India’s start-up sector has, in recent years, emerged as a powerful player and even a jobs-generator which we shouldn’t forget even at a time of justified national anger.

The fact is the Indian security establishment, rightly or wrongly, has deep concerns about Chinese apps and, indeed, China’s entire tech universe They cite a Chinese law making it obligatory for Chinese companies to cooperate with the country’s security establishment. Also, there are legitimate concerns that every Chinese company has links, in one way or another, with the Chinese government. While the latest confrontation with China has served as a sharp reminder of the need to diversify our imports and produce more locally, we can’t ignore our dependence on China for everything from drug raw materials, automobile components to mobile-phone parts. Ideally, a mutually acceptable solution needs to be found to the Ladakh stand-off. There are never any winners in a trade war.

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Published on July 01, 2020
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