Indian Ink
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Indian Ink

Calling China’s Himalayan bluff

Say no to China and ‘Made in China’

India takes on the Chinese dragon (Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash)

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I live in India which shares a long border with China, and we have just had the Chinese army intrude into Indian territory, and viciously slaughter 20 Indian soldiers. This has left the whole nation rattled.

A Global Issue, not a Local One

Only 60% of what is now China is actually China. The rest is land grabbed by China over the years. History is repeating itself. China is doing exactly what Germany did in the 1930s, and we know the price the world paid for turning a blind eye to Hitler. The Chinese government, driven by its giant economy, is rushing headlong on a path that will inevitably lead to a major global conflagration.

So what can we as individuals do about it?

Simple. No matter where we live in the world, we must boycott Chinese products, even if it means paying a bit more. In the video below, Sonam Wangchuk explains why it makes sense to tackle China with wallets, rather than bullets. Wangchuk is a globally lauded, education reformist who is based in Ladakh, which is at the epicentre of China’s land grab. His message has clearly resonated as major news agencies from around the world have started calling on him to enlighten the world about what China is up to.

Here’s the Indian context to this issue.

Back Story

This story actually began 58 years ago. India was then a young nation, having just won independence from the British in 1947. The Indian leader in 1962, Nehru, was a bit of an ass who talked big about peace and socialism (he was responsible for banning private enterprise in favour of inefficient, corrupt public sector behemoths that kept India bogged down in poverty for 40 years). Anyway, China sized up Nehru for the wimp he was, and realized the Indian army under him was not a challenge. So China invaded India and captured a giant 37,000 sq km chunk of land called Aksai Chin. It’s still under Chinese occupation despite India’s protests. China also began to support Pakistan, India’s arch-enemy, as a matter of strategic principle. That’s how things stood for the next 50 years, with occasional flare-ups, but no shots being fired.

Fast forward to early 2020

China and India had put their differences on hold, and have been doing business together. India imported goods and services worth US$65.26 billion from China in FY 20 while the total trade volume stood at US$81.6 billion, registering a trade deficit of US$48.66 billion. The trade is massively in China’s favour because their factories produce stuff much cheaper. India tried to balance this by offering to waive taxes if Chinese companies build factories in India, for products being sold here. This led to employment for thousands of Indians, while Chinese products made in India, became top sellers in several product categories. Like mobile phones for instance. This was a win-win situation and everyone was happy. More on this later.

Covid throws a spanner

Once Covid struck, the tables turned. Overnight, China became a global bad boy. They were accused of being responsible for creating the virus and hiding the fact that it existed. No one wanted to rely on China too much anymore. Japan is offering multi-billion dollars worth of support to Japanese companies who relocate their China-based factories back to Japan. US and China also fell out over the Covid crisis, and Trump began asking US companies to move out of China.

China’s exit is India’s entry

India saw the opportunity and invited the companies leaving China to set up shop in India. Also, in the midst of the Covid crisis, China massively jacked up prices for the raw materials to make drugs to combat Covid, for which they are the sole supplier. The Indian government took notice of this unscrupulous opportunism and changed its laws. It was decreed that China and other countries sharing a border with India, will henceforth not be allowed to buy Indian companies without clearance from the Indian government. India says this is to ‘curb the opportunistic takeover’ by Chinese companies of Indian firms struggling financially because of Covid.

How dare you?

China had become accustomed to doing as it pleased with anything to do with India, without any pushback. This included interfering in India’s internal affairs by taking up Kashmir’s cause and supporting Pakistan against India. So the Chinese leadership must have pretty upset at what they would have labeled as India’s audacious moves. Something was bound to give.

The Bully strikes

China decided to ask India to back off. And the way they chose to do this, was by military action. The Red Army crossed several kilometers into Indian territory on the India-China border and claimed a few strategic bases. Though China and India began talks, things escalated and 20 Indian soldiers were killed. The viciousness of the after-dark attack was appalling. Most of the Indian soldiers killed were either pushed down into the river where they drowned in the icy waters or hunted down and clubbed to death (India and China have an agreement to have troops on the border not carry guns). China seems to be deliberately trying to provoke India, as any retaliation by India will give them an excuse to ramp up their expansionist plans.

In this latest intrusion into Indian territory, China rapidly put up concrete structures at certain places. It intends to keep some of the strategic lands it grabbed. Or use them as a threat to force India to back down.

But no Indian government will survive if it lets this vicious slaughter of Indian soldiers pass without a response. India is doing just that. The Indian government has begun halting investment from Chinese companies, started cancelling contracts with them, and is looking for ways to stop entry of Chinese products via third countries. We are doing this despite desperately needing investment in an economy weakened because of the Covid long-running lockdowns, a virus that ironically came from China.

Indians go Patriotic

What China did not reckon for was a sudden swell of anti-Chinese feeling among Indian citizens. There’s now a big battle going on in social media with the Chinese media saying the Indian economy cannot survive without Chinese products. This has provoked Indian groups to push the Indian Prime Minister’s ‘Made in India’ theme.

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a trader’s union, has decided to boycott Chinese goods worth more than 1 lakh crore rupees (US $13 billion dollars), by December 2021. They have a list of about 3000 products which they say can be manufactured in India at the same quality and cost as Chinese equivalent products. It’s a small start but the right move.

There’s an app for that

Meanwhile, a concerned Indian developer called One Touch App labs, came up with a free Android app called ‘Remove China apps’ on Google Playstore. This resonated with Indians, and not just because of China’s land grab.

Android phones have been often hit by Chinese apps that install bugs on your phone, which collect your data and send it to China. The Indian Government has also hinted there is a possibility that these apps could hijack Indian phones and cause them to degrade Indian mobile networks if India and China went to war.

Identifying and removing Chinese apps will solve the issue to a certain extent. Once you install the app on your Android phone, it identifies all apps on your phone that are of Chinese origin and gives you an option to delete them. In no time, ‘Remove China apps’ became India’s top-selling app on the Google Playstore.

Google removes the ‘Remove China apps’

I was aware that the Chinese government had a few years ago forced Google to change how its search engine works in China if they wanted to do business there. Basically, nothing that makes the Chinese government look bad is allowed to pop up in Google searches.

If Chinese apps were being removed from phones in India, and they were losing money, then those Chinese businesses would have complained to the Chinese government. Google wouldn’t ban a top-selling app unless its arm had been twisted by the Chinese government.

The bully is bluffing

That was quite revealing. It seems communist China does have a God, and its name is Money. For all its muscle flexing, it hurts China to lose even a penny of the money that its many businesses are making in India. They know the Indian government won’t act against them because of the Covid financial crisis.

Yes, India will have to play nice, but Indian citizens don’t have to. We can call this bully’s bluff.

What’s bad for business is bad for politics

The real power in today’s world is in the hands of big business. Look at how tobacco and alcohol industries are favoured by governments despite it being bad for the ordinary citizen just because they are among the biggest moneymakers. They are the real power behind the throne, everywhere, including China.

The Chinese people are fine, just like the Tibetans

I have nothing against the Chinese people. I mean who dislikes Jackie Chan? How can I resent the people responsible for the finely crafted iPhones that I have been carrying around for a decade? Come to think, if not for the cheap Chinese insides, I doubt if I would have been able to afford an iPhone, or an internet TV, or a billion other products. After all, the Chinese are people like us who are just trying to make a life. The key difference is Indians choose their leaders, whereas the Chinese have no say in deciding who rules their nation.

Just think about the poor Tibetans. China occupied that nation half a century ago, and the world just looked away. The only person of note still fighting for Tibetans is their own exiled leader, the 85-year-old Dalai Lama.

Sadly, there’s no way we can retaliate against the bullying by the Chinese government without affecting its people. Sorry, guys, it’s nothing personal.

Say no to China and anything Chinese

If we Indians stop buying Chinese stuff, the Chinese will lose a good bit of that $100 billion trade. That will hurt the Chinese business establishment. And they are already hurting, as the US is likely to boot out Chinese products.

For the last few years, I have been buying Chinese products, a lot of them from Xiaomi, a Chinese brand that’s India’s top-selling mobile phone. My TV (Mi 4CPro), my Android (Poco F1) the Android it replaced (Redmi Note 4), my mother’s phone, are all models from Xiaomi.

In recent times, I’ve been avoiding buying Chinese products but there’s a catch. You can buy non-Chinese brands only if they are available, and don’t cost the earth.

China is cheap, options are pricy

Let’s discuss a few markets.

Mobile phones: One reason that Chinese phones have become so popular in India is their low prices. You can’t expect someone who has to save a couple of months to buy a phone, to pay 50% or more for a non-Chinese brand when the features offered are the same. This is particularly true of low end-phones (below Rs 10,000 or $130) where there are no non-Chinese brands that offer equivalent features at the same price. There used to be Indian phone brands like Micromax, but they have all but disappeared from the market.

That way, I’m lucky. I’m looking for a mid-range phone (above Rs 15000 or $200) to replace my kid’s 5-year-old mobile, and there are a few options from Samsung in this range.

There’s another reason I’m not happy with Chinese phones. The recent models have begun to collect user data and display ads by default. These can be disabled if you are a bit tech-savvy, but most users are not (For unknown reasons, my Poco phone isn’t plagued by ads). These ads are borderline obscene. So I disabled them on my mother’s phone when I set it up for her. But the ads popped up after an OS update ( I presume the nasty beggars re-enable themselves during an OS update), and my poor Mom didn’t know how to disable them.

Laptops I bought an Acer last year, which is a brand from Taiwan. This little nation has long been resisting China’s claims that Taiwan isn’t an independent nation, but part of China. Yesterday, a friend asked me to help him choose a laptop yesterday. We shortlisted a Lenovo (Made in China) and an Asus (Made Taiwan). He ended up buying the Asus, mostly because it’s made in Taiwan.

Shoes When my jogging shoes fell apart, I opted for a replacement that was made in Vietnam.

Cars China isn’t present in India’s car market. I own a Tata, so does my wife, while my brother has a Maruti, and my mother a Mahindra, all of which are Indian cars.

So you can see it’s a mixed bag. It’s not going to be easy or quick to stop being dependent on China, as their products are almost embedded everywhere in the Indian industry. But if we work at it and are patient, I don’t see why we shouldn’t succeed.

Having the cake and eating it

Several Chinese companies, including Xiaomi, have set up factories in India. The thing is they mostly assemble stuff. Key components like the phone’s chip are still imported from China. This means China is protecting its technical knowhow, while getting tax waivers from the Indian government for ‘making’ the phones in India.

That way, Samsung seems different. They have built one of the biggest mobile phone factories in India, and they make their phones in India. That’s why I’m considering a Samsung phone for the first time ever.

A Symbolic Step

When I heard about the ‘Remove China apps’ app being removed from the Google Playstore, I knew Google would do this to a top-selling app only if China had put pressure on them.

No one is going to dictate what we do, especially not China. The app is no longer available in Google Playstore but that doesn’t mean I can’t find it.

I googled for ‘Remove China apps’ and found it was still available online. I downloaded, installed, ran the app, and removed the four apps that it identified as being of Chinese origin. Three of those are Mi apps that may have come with the phone, which is a Xiaomi.

Here’s the link where I downloaded the ‘Remove China apps’ app, or rather its ‘apk’ file. You will have to set your Android phone to allow ‘unknown apps’ to be installed on it (which are apps from outside the Google Playstore).

You don’t need to be techy, but maybe a bit phone-savvy to do this. If you are not, never mind. I’m sure there are lots of other ways you can avoid using Chinese products.

I can’t confirm if all Chinese apps will be removed. If in doubt, you can manually remove them. Here’s a list of 42 apps reportedly blacklisted by the Indian Home Ministry. Only two apps on the list, Shareit & Mi Store, were on my phone, and the ‘Remove China apps’ identified and uninstalled both.

Weibo, WeChat, SHAREit, UC News, UC Browser, BeautyPlus, NewsDog, VivaVideo- QU Video Inc, Parallel Space, APUS Browser, Perfect Corp, Virus Cleaner (Hi Security Lab), CM Browser, Mi Community, DU recorder, Vault-Hide, YouCam Makeup, Mi Store, CacheClear DU apps studio, DU Battery Saver, DU Cleaner, DU Privacy, 360 Security, DU Browser, Clean Master — Cheetah Mobile, Baidu Translate, Baidu Map, Wonder Camera, ES File Explorer, Photo Wonder, QQ International, QQ Music, QQ Mail, QQ Player, QQ NewsFeed, WeSync, QQ Security Centre, SelfieCity, Mail Master, Mi Video call-Xiaomi, and QQ Launcher.

Options to Chinese owned Indian Companies

Apart from the Chinese hardware and software, China has also acquired several top Indian companies. Like PayTm, which is currently India’s №1 payment app. Another biggy is MakeMyTrip, the top travel app. Likewise, Zomato is a great food delivery app.

Google Pay is not as versatile as PayTm, ClearTrip isn’t as good as MakeMyTrip, and Zomato may be better than Swiggy. But these apps have one important thing in common. They are not Chinese owned companies, and that’s a good enough for me to switch to them.

Another app for that

A reader, Amol Munde has drawn my attention to a website called https://giveupchinamade.com, which gives info on non-Chinese brands available in the Indian market. They cover both software (apps) and hardware, which includes electronic gadgets like mobile phones, fitness bands laptops etc. It’s just a basic website, but I appreciate the effort as I wasn’t aware of some of these alternatives to Chinese brands.

China is everywhere

The catch is there’s something insidious about China. It’s all over the place. Apple is a US brand, but my wife’s and my iPhone are made in China, which is where around 95% of all iPhones are made. Sometimes, the Chinese quietly acquire a brand that we think is not Chinese, like happened with Motorola. My wife’s laptop is a Lenovo, a Chinese brand famous for having acquired IBM. Hell, for all I know, even those ‘Made in Vietnam’ shoes I bought could be made by a Chinese company which has set up shop in Vietnam.

Still, I can live with that, rather than give in tamely to a bully. We may not win all battles, but we will win the war. After all, when money talks, China listens.

So I’m saying no to China. How about you?

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