Chinascope is on a break from the weekly coverage of news stories from China. Instead, we look at the stories and topics about India that dominate the chatter on Chinese social media.
If we look at the Indian views on China, the security relations at the border dominate the news cycles and social media discussions. But the Chinese social media users talk about India’s economic performance and other daily news from the country.
A significant conversation revolves around the complex factors that will influence India’s ability to rise economically in the 21st century.
“Of course, I don’t mean to be bearish about India’s economy. After all, India has made progress. From the perspective of the appreciation of the US dollar, in those years, whenever such a situation occurred, several developing countries would always suffer. This time, the developing countries performed very well, but the EU and the UK were affected. It was also bad luck for the developed countries around this time, and India was considered a relatively good developing country. To summarise: India’s economic growth is ahead of that of developing countries, but it is not stronger than Vietnam,” said popular blogger Li Jianqiu, based in Hubei.
The Chinese social media users are plugged into the speculation about India’s rising economic prowess and its potential to replace China.
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Discussion on Indian economy
A recent article in Foreign Affairs by Arvind Subramanian and Josh Felman titled ‘Why India can’t Replace China’ was translated into Chinese and read over 220,362 times on the opinion and news platform, Guancha.
“India’s economy used to feel its way across the river from the Soviet Union, from the United States, and now to a large extent, Modi is feeling his way across the river from China. Many of his political and economic policies are imitating China, so he has achieved some visible development,” a reply to the article on the website said.
Lately, there has been tremendous interest in Apple’s OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) suppliers moving from mainland Taiwan to India and Vietnam. Especially, negative news about the poor performance of the new production lines set up in India catches the attention of social media users.
The hashtag “Apple responded to the smashing of Taiwan’s Indian factory” was viewed over 4.7 million times on Weibo. The story was based on iPhone maker Apple putting its supplier Wistron Corp on notice to resolve the existing labour-related issues.
Apple’s decision to produce iPhones and iPads in India has become another hot topic of discussion on Chinese social media.
The hashtag “Apple considers producing some iPads in India” was viewed 54.2 million times on Weibo. Other hashtags have started discussions about India’s ability to take up the businesses leaving China. The hashtag “Apple will invest $1 billion in India” was viewed 71 million times on Weibo.
People in China have shared a screenshot of the ‘made in India’ iPhone pro max, which became a hot topic of discussion in 2022.
Since Apple products remain the most desired line of gadgets, the company’s decision to manufacture products in India raised some questions about the quality of the manufacturing plants.
“Will there be a smell of curry when you open the package?” said a user from Shanghai.
But not all comments portray India’s manufacturing capability in a negative light.
“[In India]…production cost must be much lower than other places, no matter where it is produced, as long as there is no quality problem, it will be OK!” said a wedding blogger named ‘Yan Technology’.
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Popularity of Indian medicine
Linked to India’s rising potential in the global economy is the country’s large population dividend. The discussion about India surpassing China’s overall population size has dominated the discussions as well. The hashtag “India will become the most populous country in 4 months” was viewed 310 million times on Weibo.
Another topic that dominated the social media discussions in China was the Covid wave in India.
Between 2021 and 2022, the most viewed and discussed topic on Weibo was the Delta wave of the Covid pandemic, which had an outsized impact on India’s health system.
The hashtag “Indian epidemic” was viewed 2.47 billion times on Weibo. While that discussion eventually wanned, Chinese social media users are remembering India for another related reason now.
Currently, there is a major crunch of generic drugs used to treat complications resulting from Covid. Chinese citizens are falling back on the black market for the supply of generic medicines such as Paxlovid as the crunch for locally produced versions grows.
Paxlovid, an antiviral medicine to treat Covid, sells at 2,980 yuan but the Indian version available in the black market is available between 530 yuan and 1,600 yuan.
The Chinese government prohibits the sale of Indian variants of drugs, and selling them is a punishable offence. But the rising desperation for generic drugs, as the Omicron variants infect people across major population centres, has reminded people about the promise of the Indian pharmaceutical industry and its relative success at vaccinating millions of Indians.
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Source of India-related news, Chinese views
Besides the economy and Covid pandemic, major geopolitical issues dominate social media discussions.
A widely discussed topic on Chinese social media was British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Indian origin. The hashtag “UK welcomes First Prime Minister of Indian origin” was viewed over 220 million times.
As Indians have relied on Western media for information and insights about China, Chinese social media users rely on Russian state media to learn about India-related news developments. Chinese social media users on Weibo and WeChat learn about the geopolitical events involving India and the US from Russian media in Chinese.
Newsworthy geopolitical news about India’s relations with the US has piqued the interest of many social media users. The hashtag “US is considering whether to sanction India” was viewed over 510 million times on Weibo.
The Chinese public’s interest in the news related to the border has taken a back seat since the June clash as Beijing has tried to create the impression that the situation at the border is ‘stable’.
There are many facets of the India-China strategic competition that now span into the economic sphere. As much as the Indian public and media are concerned about the trade deficit with China, the Chinese public keenly watches India’s economic performance and what India’s economic rise could mean for China.
Aadil Brar is a columnist and a freelance journalist. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)