Intellectual Asset ManagementSocial Media and Cyber Laws

Boycotting Chinese Apps: Can we afford it?

This article is the first in the series India-China: Beyond the Line.

There has been a long-standing history of tensions and disputes between China and India regarding territory, diplomatic ties and the soft power that China holds, primarily due to its economy. Recently, it was witnessed that the Sino-Indian border was packed with tension when the Chinese troops marched towards Ladakh, the disputed region of Kashmir. This comes in the wake of the public health emergency of COVID-19 that allegedly began from China. The neighbouring nations are the two most populous and powerful countries in the world. The very potential of these two countries garners eyeballs and instils the fear of escalation resulting in greater harm for the concerned countries as well as the nations adjoining the boundaries.  Though the recent action of the Chinese troops have left the Indian officials staggered.[1]

In May 2020, the Chinese troops entered the territory that they recognised to be the Indian subcontinent. China took to its move in response to India reactivating a 700 km road built by India to connect the high altitude forward airbase.[2] In spite of the peace dialogue between the two nations, the situation did not get better. In addition to the situation at the border, India decided to support the 62 nations’ group which was in favour of the World Health Organisation’s (WHOs) probe in Wuhan as COVID-19 draws its roots from there.[3] After a subsequent standoff at the border for over a month, there were reports of clashes between the Chinese and Indian soldiers resulting in an extremely hostile environment between the two nations.[4] Due to the tensions rising in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh, India witnessed the death of 20 Indian soldiers which was a first in the last 4 decades. There is no apparent reason behind the recent face-off except for it being a strategic opportunity, amidst the pandemic.[5]

However, the Sino-Indian Relations have been extremely sensitive since 1950, when India ended its formal ties with the Republic of China and chose to recognise it as the People’s Republic of China. The two countries have been close competitors in terms of their economies’ growth. The history of the border disputes among China and India dates back to the 1962 war and the latest clash at Doklam plateau in 2017. Though the countries have managed to maintain diplomatic ties, there has been constant tension between the two.

Apart from the border disputes, there are numerous issues that stand in between the two countries. China is emerging to be one of the leading economies of the world with the GDP growth of around 6.1%.[6] This growth percentage is an enviable figure for most leading economies. Thus, it is very evident that China holds immense economic power and controls a great proportion of global trade which is almost 12.4% of the total global trade.[7] Such growth has been a primary factor in the creation of disequilibrium of the balance of payments as India has a merely 5.1% of share in the exports to China whereas it contributes to about 13.7% of the total imports in India[8].

This is creating problems of unemployment in the nation by making India dependent on the industrial and manufacturing sector of China. India, evidently, has a less developed manufacturing and industrial sector which is not as technically advanced as that of China. India, which aspires to produce goods within the country and trade its way towards the path of self-sufficiency, falls back on the Chinese products as they are extremely affordable in nature. This also leads to doing away with the jobs India could have provided while producing most things within the country.

China has had a history of being an aggressive and unfriendly superpower. There have been many instances in the past where it has had head-butting relations with various countries around the world in regard to trade or any other geopolitical issue. Since Trump has been the President of the United States, the US-China trade relations have been on a bumpy ride. Similarly with Australia, since it has advocated for independent research in the origin of Covid-19. Moreover, the country’s antagonistic attitude towards the infamous South-China Sea incident with countries like Japan has been a testament to China’s bullying nature.[9] China has not only been treating the smaller and less powerful nations in this manner but has also managed to dictate its terms by ensuring that India does not get the seat of a permanent member in the UN Security Council.[10]


In the wake of these issues, the Indian government has banned 59 Chinese apps which appear likely to be in response to the tensions created by the Galwan valley incident and the loss of 20 soldiers.[11] The pertinent questions to ask here are if such a boycott is feasible right now or should India prepare to be self -sufficient in terms of the manufacturing capacity for the long run.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson expressed their concern over the Indian government owing the responsibility to respect the rights of the international investors, including Chinese investors. In response to many conjectures, the Indian IT Ministry stated that the ban has come forth in the light of numerous complaints filed in regard to the apps and their unauthorized data usage and issues of data privacy were highlighted by the same. The Ministry invoked Section 69A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 and the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009. Section 69A[12] permits the Central Government to block the public access to information by computer resource that proves to be a threat to the security of the State; public order and so on and so forth, as mentioned in the provision.[13] To trace the impact on the Chinese government, experts argue that though their user base will undergo a drop, this move will have a minor impact on the revenue collection of such apps.

It is notable that the provisions under section 69A do not provide for a blanket ban on the applications, but a singleton approach is available. Further, the exact content of the legal order prohibiting the applications is not available in the public domain. The government has merely issued a public statement.

The overnight ban of applications like TikTok, UC Browser, Cam Scanner and others has come as a blow to many people who were employed and working for these companies or were active users/ content creators on these apps. However, there have been strong protests against the use of Chinese apps by others too.[14] The purpose of this move was two-fold; first was to move towards the path of self-sufficiency and promote the Indian origin apps, the second was to ensure that India responds to the military standoff between the two countries and causes an effect on Chinese markets and technology by reducing the Indian consumer base.[15] In hindsight, the above reason has been backed by the reason to mitigate the data theft and privacy concerns, as received in complaints by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), India.


To analyse the fulfilment of the two motives, it is essential to deal with the issue of self-sufficiency. Recently in his speech, Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about being ‘atmanirbhar’ which is to be depended on oneself and schemes like ‘Make in India’ have been a testament to the fact that India has always wanted to move towards the goal of being independent as it was extremely dependent on China. However, it is imperative to have a look at the Indian substitutes of these banned applications. The use of these 59 apps has been barred in the Indian subcontinent without providing for an equally advanced and technologically developed app as its substitute. For example, the video making and editing app TikTok was adjudged to be one of the most loved apps with a total of 1.5 billion downloads all over the world and 323 million in India just in a year. The platform collaborated with not only the influencers and TikTok stars but also the top shot movie stars. Thus, it is safe to assume that it was an industry in itself which was responsible for employing 10,000 people involved in high-level research and coding. The app further aimed to hire online tutors to cater to online education.[16] It has also been reported that some TikTok stars in India were paid as much as Rs. 97,84,900 per post.[17] This market and consumer base created by TikTok is way ahead of all the Indian competitors like Mitron, Chingari etc.[18] The customer base of these apps is at its nascent stage which also results in less number of employment opportunities created by them. Thus, the first objective of self-sufficiency will take longer gestation periods for the Indian apps to develop and build a market while ensuring employment of not only the employers but also the users, for whom these apps are their only source of earnings.

As a response to the military standoff, banning a countable number of apps does not prove to be a long term solution. There are numerous platforms which have a large proportion of investment from, or which are based in China, like Xiaomi, One Plus, Vivo, Paytm, Alibaba[19] and companies with substantial Chinese Investment like Flipkart and Ola.[20]  These companies have been an inevitable part of the Indian economy and have given a push to the technological infrastructure in the country while promoting the new entrepreneurs and creating job opportunities. The digital payments firm, Paytm, claims to have a consumer base of around 140 million in India and [21] has about 10,000 employees in India[22]. Moreover, many new startups depend on such e-financing services platforms for their daily transactions as it is viable, trusted and most convenient. Overnight boycott of such platforms can lead to complete mayhem among the consumers, employees and other small startups. Therefore enforcing a ban, without having an indigenous similar stable structure, of such companies and services with such large scale impact on the country can prove to be an unpropitious move.

Looking at the impact of the plan to boycott China right now, India will be at a disadvantage in the initial phase, but in the long term, a robust framework and growth mechanism could help.  The large customer base of the Chinese owned apps, mobile phone companies and other e-commerce service providers cannot be shifted to any Indian counterpart instantly. The country lacks the manufacturing units, investors and other tech developments that Chinese apps and products provide us with. The building up of manufacturing units and other infrastructure is significant to provide to the large customer base, the same or a better level of services. Thus, an overnight boycott of China can pose many problems not only in terms of the users but also in terms of the employment that these companies provide. To substitute and cover for all the instant difficulties that may arise, India will indeed take time to reach the desired goal.[23]

The political move of choosing to ban the Chinese products, companies and the recent ban on 59 Chinese applications came in as the bilateral tensions between the two nations are at an all-time high. The Indian Government, in response to such a ban, stated that it is motivated by the concern for the apps being “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, the security of the State and public order”.[24] The current ban included many well-known e-commerce websites like Shein, media apps like WeChat and some gaming platforms like Clash of Kings. The Chinese government, however, stated that the Chinese business model adopts the international as well as local laws.

To trace the Indian scenario, it will be much more affected by such immediate boycott decisions. This is simply because the majority of the population is dependent on the Chinese products and services or the companies in which China invests. Thus, it might not appear practical to boycott China with immediate effect, but in the longer run, such resilience could boost ‘homemade’ app growth. The primary reason for the non-plausibility of such an action is that it will mean shifting the demand of the large Indian population on the Indian companies and services who are not equipped to handle such a large consumer base right now. This is because of the capital constraints and lack of infrastructure. Looking for a long term solution and concentrating more of Indian resources in developing new ideas, investing capital in new businesses, promoting start-ups, promoting better technology and infrastructure as well as ensuring that there is an ease in doing business in India can be a step forward.

[1] Explainer: what is the deadly India-China border dispute about? The Guardian (Jun. 17, 2020),

[2] Anbarasan Ethirajan & Vikas Pandey, China-India border: Why tensions are rising between the neighbours, BBC News (May 30, 2020),

[3] Pia Krishnankutty & Srijan Shukla, 1954 Panchsheel pact to Galwan Valley ‘violence’ — India-China relations in last 7 decades, The Print (Jun. 16, 2020),

[4]  Pia Krishnankutty & Srijan Shukla, 1954 Panchsheel pact to Galwan Valley ‘violence’ — India-China relations in last 7 decades, The Print (Jun. 16, 2020),

[5] Explained Desk, Galwan face-off: What India must do in face of the Chinese challenge, The Indian Express (Jun. 19, 2020),

[6] Yang Rui, China’s GDP grew 6.1 percent in 2019: Is it bad?, CGTN (Jun. 19, 2020),–NnovmJqhck/index.html.

[7] Is China the world’s top trader? China Power (Mar. 28, 2019),

[8] Shelley Singh, Why China’s aggressive rise as a superpower spells bad news for India, The Economic Times (Jun. 20, 2020),

[9] Shelley Singh, Why China’s aggressive rise as a superpower spells bad news for India, The Economic Times (Jun. 20, 2020),

[10] China’s Reply When Asked About India’s Big Support At UN Security Council, NDTV (Jun. 20, 2020),

[11] C. Raja Mohan, Indian resistance to China’s expansionism would be a definitive moment in Asia’s geopolitical evolution, The Indian Express (Jun. 30, 2020),

[12] Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 § 69A(2).

[13] Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 § 69A.

[14] Why ‘Boycott Chinese apps’ trend will have no impact on indo-china Ladakh standoff,The Quint (Jun. 12, 2020),

[15] Chinese App Ban: Where’s the Legal Order of This Web Censorship?, The Quint (Jun. 30, 2020),

[16] Mansoor Iqbal, TikTok Revenue and Usage Statistics (2020), Business of Apps (Jun. 23, 2020),

[17] Asiaville Desk, TikTok stars make a lot of money from their viral videos. This is how much they earn per post, Asia Ville News (Feb. 4, 2020),

[18] Ashri Khandelwal, TikTok banned in India: Mitron, Chingari, and other TikTok alternatives you can use, Times Now News (Jun. 30, 2020),

[19] Hemant Singh, List of Top Chinese Companies in India, Jagran Josh (Jun. 29, 2020),

[20] Pratik Bhakta, From Paytm, Flipkart to Swiggy, big Indian startups are stuffed with Chinese money, Moneycontrol (Jun. 17, 2020),

[21] Paytm to invest Rs 750 crore to reach 250 million monthly active users by March, The Economic Times (Aug. 15, 2019),

[22] Paytm Financial Services, LinkedIn,

[23] James Crabtree, Why a Trade War With China Is a Bad Idea for India, Foreign Policy (Jun. 29, 2020),

[24] Ban on Chinese apps, including TikTok, surprises India content makers, BBC News (Jun. 30, 2020),


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