The June 15 border clash between troops is triggering public boycotts of Chinese-made goods. On a recent morning, Anil Gupta, a senior customs officer in India’s capital, went through his wardrobe, toiletries and all electronic items in search for anything that had a ‘Made in China’ tag. He found a handful of clothes guilty, brands ranging from Brooks Brothers and Diesel and to Scotch & Soda. He took them to his terrace and lit a match to them.
“I was in tears when I set them ablaze,” says the 47-year-old Gupta, adding that the items were among his favorite T-shirts and shirts that he would wear on special occasions. But burning them was necessary, Gupta says. “I felt like I have burnt three, four Chinese, and have avenged our soldiers.”
Gupta’s comments mirror a wave of nationalist anti-China sentiment coursing through many Indians lately, following the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers at the contentious Indo-Chinese border last week.
India shares a long border with China – more than 2,000 miles long – though both sides have long disagreed on the exact length and location of the border. Many parts of the border, which runs along the Himalayan mountain range, are not marked on ground.
Disagreement over which part of the territory belongs to whom led to a full-fledged war between the two countries in 1962, and has been the cause of a series of skirmishes over the years. But the June 15 clash in the Galwan Valley in the northern India region of Ladakh is thedeadliest in 45 years.
India says that the Chinese were trying to “erect structures” on the Indian side, and when Indian troops stopped this attempt, “Chinese troops took violent actions” that resulted in casualties. The Chinese government, meanwhile, says that Indian border troops have been building roads, bridges and other facilities in the Galwan Valley area, and that on June 15, India’s frontline troops “violently attacked the Chinese officers and soldiers” across the border.
Analysts have said they anticipate further action – be it economic, military or a combination of the two – likely from India. That question was answered on Monday, when India banned the use of 59 mobile apps, most from China, in its strongest move yet targeting Beijing.
“This is not something that is going to be resolved very quickly,” says Alka Acharya, professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “It would be very difficult for any government to be seen as not responding to this.”
People participate in a funeral procession for Colonel B. Santosh Babu in Suryapet, India on June 18, 2020. India says that the Chinese were trying to “erect structures” on the Indian side, and when Indian troops stopped this attempt, “Chinese troops took violent actions” that resulted in casualties.(MAHESH KUMAR A./AP)
Celebrities Join in Boycott Calls
In the meantime, Indians such as Gupta are taking it upon themselves to hit back at China in the only way they know how: through their spending.
“This time, more than India’s bullet power, wallet power will be useful,” says Sonam Wangchuk, who works toward education reform in Ladakh in a video published in late May. Wangchuk’s message has gained favor since last week and now has more than 4.2 million views. He essentially tells viewers that the money Indians spend on Chinese products is indirectly funding their military and ultimately killing Indian soldiers.
Celebrities and regular citizens say they are heeding Wangchuk’s call. Actor Milind Soman saidon Twitter that he had uninstalled the hugely popular video-sharing application TikTok, which is owned by a Beijing-based company. Hashtags such as #BoycottChina and #BoycottChineseProducts are circulating widely on Indian social media channels, with videos on YouTube, posts on Twitter, Facebook and even the professional networking site LinkedIn.
“Please build a habit of seeing the manufacturing country, if it’s clearly written – Made In China, plz do put it down, irrespective of the cheap price,” wrote Devesh U., an assistant general manager, in a LinkedIn post. He included a video showing an Indian army officer in uniform who said he was going to the India-China border, and asked people to boycott Chinese things.
In recent days, local news channels in India have shown reports of small street protests in towns such as Jammu and Varanasi. A video that shows a man throwing his flat-screen TV, purportedly made in China, from the first floor of an apartment building, has been viewed more than 2 million times.
Gupta says he has shared pictures and videos of the burning of his clothes via WhatsApp and Facebook. He says he has received many responses, adding that though people won’t be burning the Chinese-made products they currently own, from now on they won’t buy.
Local and social media is rife with information about Indian alternatives to Chinese products and services. On June 23, India issued a rule that sellers on the government’s e-marketplace must show the country of origin of all products. That move followed earlier legislationrequiring government approval for investments from Chinese parties, and the government’s plan to raise tariffs on Chinese-made goods.
Deep Economic Ties Complicate Punitive Actions
Many in India, however, are quick to note that weaning away from the Chinese economically is easier said than done.
China-made products are ubiquitous in India and in every industry – toys, lighting and even idols of Indian gods. Bilateral trade between India and China grew from $3 billion in 2000 to an all-time high of $95 billion in 2018, according to Indian government data. The trade is heavily in China’s favor, whose exports to India are four times its imports from India. India’s trade deficit with China is the single largest it runs with any country.
In recent years, Chinese phone makers such as OnePlus, Vivo and Oppo have come to dominate the smartphone market in India. Chinese investors like Tencent and Alibaba have poured millions of dollars into some of India’s largest new-age companies like Ola, the Indian version of Uber, Paytm, a digital payments firm and Byju’s, an online tutoring app. Additionally, Chinese applications such as TikTok and UC Browser have millions of users in India.
“There is too much of Chinese presence in the everyday life of the average Indian,” says Acharya, the professor. She says that calls to boycott Chinese products have happened in the past when there have been incursions at the border, but the death of soldiers this time, has heightened the emotional element.
“The emotion arises from the fact that China is traditionally seen as stabbing India in the back.”