The decision of India to ban 59 Chinese apps has sent ripples across the world, with global media giants picking up the threads of a story that has just begun to develop. Even as things roll on the ground and questions continue to be raised on how this will go through, there are important signals to be read between the lines of the order on various levels.
Few countries so far have dared to take steps that have left the People’s Republic of China (PRC), particularly the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) clique dumbstruck to the point of seething with rage. As countries continue to suffer from various kinds of undermining efforts, be they cyberattacks on Australia, airspace violations for Taiwan or the wilful kidnapping of Canadian citizens to get senior Huawei executive released, CCP has left no stone unturned to flex its muscle and behave like a bully.
It takes a mentally tough person to stand up to a bully, and India has precisely done that. Repeatedly. Be it the terse rejection of the Dolam standoff, One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, the Galwan valley clash and now this step of banning of apps, India has taken the challenge to enemy territory. With this step, India has displayed an iron will to do whatever it takes and has sent out a strong message that cannot be ignored by the world at the very least. Targeting companies in particular that directly link back to the CCP government and military is essential, as it hits them where it hurts the most.
Of course, there are critics as usual for every move that India will undertake against China, questioning its logic. Some have started to argue whether India is an important market for CCP ruled China – if 1.3 billion people do not constitute an important market for any country and its companies, what does? Companies like Tik Tok, with its ₹100 crore revenue target for India for the year 2020, and SHAREit, which earns 15-20% of its revenue from India, exemplify just how important a market India is for them. If indeed, as some critics still persist, it made no difference to the Chinese, why are so many op-eds and cartoons chiding ‘Indian nationalism’s harmful effects’ being published by CCP’s propaganda outlets?
Some have suggested that this could hurt India more than it hurts China. This is fallacious. India only gains more space for some of its innovators to serve a huge market while Chinese companies lose a big market, possibly permanently.
Then there are some people who ask if this is enough to deter the Chinese. Only those who think the ban on these apps is the first and the last such decision would think so. One must not take one link for the whole chain and misjudge. This is only the beginning.
Technology markets are fluid, with newer challengers always seeking to dethrone existing rulers. This Schumpeterian process of creative destruction is a welcome economic phenomenon that also creates jobs of its own, and so claims of jobs being lost are tenuous, given this fluidity. Also, this other bogey of investor sentiment makes little sense, considering how CCP ruled China has attracted so many investors despite refusing to open up its technology market. To put matters to rest, one must also remember a small instance of very recent origin – Reliance Jio has raised more than ₹1 lakh crore of funding from international investors, even as the tensions on the Ladakh front were existent.
An important component of this message has been the sense of privilege China has smugly displayed in recent times about its economic strength. Such projects as the OBOR and the swamping of the world with Chinese goods and now technology based on state-sponsored technology theft, aggressively undercutting others on pricing, are not being viewed for what they are – a new form of colonialism and a challenge to the rules-based world order. CCP ruled China has thrown its hat in the ring with its own vision of a world order where China is at the centre, with the divine mandate of Tianxia.
In a rules-based world order, this sleight-based heft of the CCP must not be tolerated, and an example has been rightly put forth by India. It is now for the world to realize and join in to call out even more aggressively than it has to help contain this pseudo-terrorist organization and make it accountable for a global crisis that has been triggered by its irresponsible management of a pandemic. Instead of being controlled or apologizing for the mess that has been created, China has instead gone ahead and tried to leverage the prevailing resultant chaos to redraw the global order. CCP ruled China cannot be allowed to get away with this exploitation rooted in perfidy at any cost.
Having said that, it is also imperative to seize the golden opportunity that has been created with the disappearance of these software applications. It is somewhat criminal that India, with its so-called famous hi-tech capabilities of the software, has struggled to create similar products so far. One big impediment to that is the onslaught of the Chinese hi-tech companies in this space – when a UC browser with its 50 million users produces content in 15 Indian languages, one realizes the depth of its pockets and the kind of backing it has to enable such a step.
Of course, this is driven by an important factor hard to miss – the Chinese technology system is a closed-door world, where foreign competitors have been denied entry or given an unfair playing field. An opportunity has now emerged for the Indian technology developers to take a lead and fill the potential void left by the absence of such products.
(This article has been written by Rohit Pathania)