The government has moved smartly to block 59 apps owned or backed by the Chinese – including popular ones such as TikTok with more than 120 million active Indian users. It’s not just a measure of retaliation for Chinese intrusions across the LAC and killing of Indian soldiers – it’s also essential for security reasons. Clandestine data pilferage is a serious concern with Chinese platforms; China has little regard for intellectual property or privacy standards. Given that Chinese companies necessarily have to work with the Chinese government, the latter can use these platforms to mount cyber attacks against India, or obtain granular level intelligence on individual Indians, at a time when the two countries are facing off along the LAC.
Unlike 1962, this time the contest with China is a multidimensional one. China will use its huge economic, technological and diplomatic clout to hector India and subordinate it to Chinese interests. Likewise, we too should be prepared to use non-linear options against China and hit them where it hurts. This is why we have to be smart about dealing with Chinese imports. While blocking off essential supplies such as active pharmaceutical ingredients and other critical inputs for Indian industry is silly, targeting Chinese internet platforms closes a security loophole and leverages India’s huge market potential to put economic pressure on China.
This is because for many of these Chinese platforms, India is their largest growth market outside of China. And banning them doesn’t have that much of an impact on Indian industry. Sure, Indian users of these Chinese platforms will be inconvenienced. But this is also an opportunity to develop Indian alternatives leveraging our strengths in IT. Nor can we be sitting ducks for Chinese cyber attacks like the one that hit Australia recently, crippling websites relating to government and essential services.
True, there is also the issue of Chinese investments, including in Indian startups. In fact, a political slugfest has broken out between BJP and Congress over Chinese donations to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and PM Cares fund. This would be a good time to review the entire gamut of Chinese investments in India and do away with the legal loophole currently permitting foreign donations to political parties. The last thing we need is Indian politics being influenced by Chinese money. Taken together, we need to prepare on multiple dimensions to tackle the China threat smartly and holistically.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.