Dimple D’Souza’s WhatsApp profile picture now reads, “ITS OVER”. The video-streaming platform on which she became a star, BIGO LIVE, was among the 59 Chinese apps unceremoniously banned by the Narendra Modi government on Monday in an apparent response to the stand-off at the Line of Actual Control. The other popular apps on the list were TikTok, SHAREit — which had at least 200 million active users in India — and Weibo, which was back in news after its most high-profile Indian user, PM Modi, finally decided to quit it.
Citizens like Dimple were making a lot of money using these mostly Chinese apps and becoming famous.
“I would never make so much (money) with a 9-to-5 government job,” she had said last year.
But that’s just Dimple. There are so many like her in India who can’t do without Chinese goods, culture and overall Chinese influence in their daily lives. In fact, the whole Boycott China sentiment is mostly restricted to uninstalling Chinese apps or not buying new products with ‘Made in China’ label. But what about all the things we already use?
The hullaballoo surrounding Chinese stuff, given a fillip by the recent ban on 59 apps, is why it is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Also read: TikTok made rural India into DIY Eklavyas
The Chinese connect
Just think about the good old chowmein – one of the cornerstones of many budget-friendly food students and young Indians living away from home rely on. Not to mention how it’s one of the most prominent street foods for many people in India. Will you just stop eating it? How will you ditch the cute bags at Miniso? Or Uniqlo?
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What if you worked at a Chinese firm like Huawei or ByteDance, which owns apps like TikTok and Helo? A colleague once told me that employees with 1-2 years of experience get paid anywhere between Rs 70,000 to 80,000 a month – journalists with even 10 years of experience might not get paid that much, as would people in several other professions. Should those working in these firms just quit their job?
The long list of imports
India imports a lot of stuff from China — more than 8,000 items. According to the latest available government data, imports from China are worth the most – Rs 4,40,101 crore. The United States is a distant second – Rs 2,36,933 crore.
The March 2020 report by the Director General of Foreign Trade says the three top categories of imports from China are: electronics components (9.15 per cent); telecom equipment (8.57 per cent); and computer hardware, peripherals (6.37 per cent) – basically, most of the gadgets that Indians use.
And Indians can’t get enough of Chinese consumer electronics – the OnePlus 8 Pro phone sold out in minutes, and models from Xiaomi’s first-ever laptop series in India, the Mi NoteBook 14, sold out fast as well. This happened even as India-China border tensions started rising in June, so I don’t think gadget lovers care or make the connection between using a Chinese product and being anti-national.
The iPhones, the AirPods, and the Apple Watches that you see middle and upper class Indians doting on are also mostly from China. Wonder what phone Home Minister Amit Shah or other ministers and political leaders use.
And no one can make the high-end iPhone like China does. The Wall Street Journal said in a report in March: “Apple is unlikely to shift any of the production of its most expensive iPhones to India later this year….The supply chain isn’t in place, and workers in India aren’t ready to produce the high-end, organic light-emitting diode models….”
Even the surveillance market in India is controlled by China. The video surveillance company Hikvision, which provides both hardware and software services, has a dominating presence in India.
And that’s just the gadgets. There’s more government data that paints a complex picture of the number of things India imports from China.
All things Chinese
According to the Department of Commerce, there are more than 8,000 items imported from China. These include tooth brushes and tooth paste, pens and nibs, underpants and briefs, tomato seeds, dried onions, green tea, raisins, mango pulp, Kashmir goat hair, waste of human hair, yak tail… the list is long, and endlessly surprising.
In fact, if it wasn’t for former defence minister and Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar’s 2015 address at a seminar, many Indians wouldn’t have known that even statues of Hindu gods, such as Ganesha, are manufactured in China. Rounding out the list are illegal Chinese firecrackers and fancy dragons and Chinese calligraphy tattoos that many readily believe are the Chinese translation of their name or some wise quote.
Then there are students who want to learn Mandarin. A website named Shiksha.com shows 38 colleges and universities teaching the language. Indians also want to study in China – as of last year, there are 23,000 Indian students in the neighbouring country, with about 21,000 of them studying medicine.
“China has, in recent years, become one of the preferred destinations of Indian students for pursuing higher studies”, the Indian embassy in Beijing says.
Boycott false notions
How do some Indians believe they will ever be able to come out of the Chinese grip? The two countries are so interlinked. China is the Ying to India’s Yang (Ying and Yang is a popular tattoo choice, by the way).
India must produce more goods at home, especially in sectors such as IT, aviation, and pharma. But that still won’t translate to India managing all by itself, without any Chinese product in people’s homes. Boycott China is a pipe dream.
The best thing Indians can hope is for the stand-off with China at the LAC to end soon and border tensions to simmer down so that things can go back to the way they were — uncomfortable neighbours trying to get along because they know how important they are in each other’s lives.
Views are personal.
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