The tensions have been brewing on both sides ever since the confrontation of 14th June. Post a series of bilateral talks at the diplomatic and military levels, India had first gone on the offensive to conduct a ‘digital strike’ on China by banning Tiktok (which had the largest userbase in India), CamScanner among 69 similar Chinese apps citing data safety concerns.
Now, after a recent escalation in border tension, India once again took on China the digital way. This time banning 118 Chinese apps including the most popular multiplayer game in India – PUBG; the appmaker of which is Chinese.
More than dismaying Indian gamers, this latest salvo has angered the Chinese officials and administration according to NDTV. Beijing on Thursday cited Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and yoga’s popularity in China to criticize India banning 118 Chinese apps and subtly warned New Delhi against joining the US’s ‘clean network’ programme, Washington’s initiative for internet without security threats.
The Chinese foreign ministry said the Nobel winning poet Tagore and his poems is a great influence in China, and similarly yoga – an Indian tradition is also very popular among Chinese citizens but did not mean that China looks at these as “infiltration” or “threat”.
India had previously banned these bulk of 118 apps citing data concerns. These “apps collect and share data in a surreptitious manner and compromise personal data and information of users that can have a severe threat to the security of the state,” India’s ministry of electronics and information technology said in a statement.
However, while the foreign ministry drew parallels and was non-hostile, China’s commerce ministry was aggressive in its statement. It said it strongly opposed India banning Chinese apps.
“Indian actions violate the legal interests of Chinese investors and services providers and China asks India to correct its mistakes,” commerce ministry spokesperson Gao Feng said at a briefing. Gao said India has abused national security by imposing “discriminate restrictions” on Chinese companies, Feng added that said China has always asked its companies to “comply with international and local rules and regulations in their overseas operations.”
“We hope that the Indian side will work with the Chinese side to maintain hard-won bilateral cooperation and development so as to build an open and fair business environment for international investors and services providers including Chinese companies,” Gao was quoted as saying by Times of India.
The Chinese foreign ministry, however, focused on the sensitive and volatile nature of the Indo-China relationship and said that neither country should hurt long-term interests because of short-sightedness.
“The Indian side decided to ban some great and popular Chinese apps. Indian user’s rights and interests are firstly harmed. And Chinese business rights and interests will also be harmed. So, what India has done is not beneficial to anyone,” spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
“As I said both are ancient civilizations with splendid cultures that we are proud of, and the exchange between the two sides have been going on for thousands of years.”
Giving the example of Tagore, Hua said many of his poems are popular in China, and then quoted a line from one of his poems: “We read the world wrong, and say that it deceives us”.
“Also, yoga is becoming more and more popular in China; including myself, I am very fond of Indian culture. But we do not think that Indian culture or the poems or other things are infiltrating here or are posing any threat to Chinese culture,” Hua said.
“What we believe is that the intermingling of different cultures is conducive to promoting people’s mutual understanding and friendship.”
Hua also let out a subtle warning about ties between India and the US.
“I have noted that the US state department on the same day said that India banned more than 100 Chinese apps and called on other countries to join India to roll out the clean network initiative,” she said according to The Hindustan Times.
“So, I don’t know if there is any correlation or interaction between India and the US. But India is an ancient civilization with wise people. They should know what the US has done in Cyber Security for example Dirtbox, Prism, Irritant Horn, Muscular, and under-sea cable tapping. Indian people must have the wisdom to tell whether the US practice on cybersecurity is clean or dirty. We hope India could stay committed to its precious independence decision making.”
Several international experts in China have expectedly criticized New Delhi’s move to ban the apps speculating that it the Indian government has ill-intentions to stir up the conflict to divert attention from its dismal economic conditions and that might worsen the relationship between the two major Asian economies.
Zhao Gancheng, director of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies said while the apps ban will likely have a limited impact on the Indian economy, the “…ill intentions behind the Indian government’s move to stir up tension and even conflict with China are increasingly reaching a dangerous level”.
“This is dangerous. The worse the Indian economy becomes, the higher the probability that a military conflict could be provoked by New Delhi. This is a very worrisome situation,” Zhao told state media.
With domestic problems of the coronavirus, shrinking GDP, job losses, and mass unemployment, India’s focus should for the present be more on finding solutions for the crises at home, rather than going on the offensive against another country. India should definitely guard her borders, but it should avoid provocations and not initiate aggressive measures that would need the country to focus its attention and resources on external man-made crises.