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China – Ban, Boon Or Bane?

China is currently at its most vulnerable as an authoritarian regime.

Photo Credit :

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China-bashing is the current flavour across India. We have found our new digression from the socio-economic crisis at hand. Pakistan has taken a back seat for once. A celebrity social scientist has made a video clip on the same. Compilations of all things Chinese that should be banned are the rage on WhatsApp. Very thoughtfully someone has created an app that will delete all Chinese apps!  

Why exactly are we bashing China?

Now, I am no great fan of China, but I fail to understand what exactly we want. Friends and foes alike tell me that China is the source of the Coronavirus, the Chinese have deliberately spread it across the world and hidden the truth from all. 

That China, or Wuhan in specific, is the source of the virus is an established fact, if one were to accept what the Chinese government and WHO says. 

We still do not have solid proof that China deliberately spread it globally making unsuspecting Italians, Americans, Germans, Iranians and French hug and kiss infected Chinese visiting their countries. This is not like the Nazi concentration camps with all their hideous crimes in the open even when the war was on. So, we will have to wait till the clinching evidence is with us.

Talking of Chinese data is more like the game of ‘Chinese whispers’, so why single out this specific data on the number infected or killed by the virus? Dispassionately speaking, would it matter to any non-Chinese if ten times have actually perished? 

So this sudden upsurge of hatred for the Chinese in India, a good three months after the “Wuhan virus” hit us intrigues me.

Why right now?

There are three factors at play. 

First, half-way through Lockdown 3.0 we realised that things were not going as planned; the curved had not been flattened enough and the migrant worker crisis was getting out of hand. The internal dissent from all socio-economic quarters found the government off guard. Hence the quickly drummed up ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ and the ‘20-lakh crore stimulus package’. 

Second, after two full months of being shut, business had to be gradually cranked up and unless there was built-up demand, local production could take a massive hit vis-à-vis e-commerce platforms. This is a serious concern as the traditional mom and pop / kirana stores would have been no match for the well-stocked e-com platforms once non-essential commerce was opened. 

Third, the Chinese army is stupidly flexing its muscles in Ladakh right now and using Nepal as a proxy. While LAC transgressions are not new, the Nepal factor was a new one. And we have experienced spurts of anti-China sentiments on every such occasion, just like during the Doklam ‘crisis’. 

These three factors make this timing unique and therefore the heightened sense of wanting to drive your truck into the Great Wall. 

What do you want to ban?

This is an uncomfortable question I have posed before many, for there are many options here – the people, the culture, the trade, the investments and / or the products. 

“The products”, say many. Okay. Which products, the ones made in China or Chinese brands? The lifestyle products or the crucial inputs into outputs like medicines and food? The products that are 100% Chinese or have even one teeny-weeny Chinese component? 

Are you okay with a Chinese brand like Xiaomi made in India with 100% locally sourced components employing thousands? Are you okay with a Tata car sold globally using Chinese components? Are you okay with a crucial French antibiotic with Chinese molecules? Are you okay with Chinese investors in Indian unicorns? 

I have found no clear answers to these questions till now.

Why do you want to ban? 

Two popular reasons.

First, because they are used to spy upon us. 

We are okay with US brands spying on us for years but have a problem with the Chinese. We can pardon a Facebook partnering with Cambridge Analytica to spike election propaganda but have serious issues with Huawei’s 5G. Is it to do with our preconceived notions of ‘master and slave’ or to do with the racial colour code?

Second, if we stop buying Chinese stuff then the factories will be out of orders and the people will be out of jobs and that will destroy the Chinese economy and not fund the muscle-flexing on our borders.

By this logic, as we have not bought any North Korean product [not that we know of any], they should not have had an army and be bursting bombs once in a while! There is no logic in this argument at all. This may actually arise out of jealousy over the rapid growth of a poor country that till the 1980s had every socio-economic index score lower than ours.

China is an authoritarian state. The only two entities that are 100% Chinese are the Communist Party of China [CPC] and the People’s Liberation Army [PLA]! And they one and the same, enrolling 12 million citizens together. Any authoritarian state lives by fear, control, violence, censures and colonisation. The CPC does that very well. All Chinese enterprises have some government equity as control, so even if sales and downloads drop by half in India, the machinery will not stop its muscle-flexing. 

In fact, It might get only worse for the average Chinese worker, being forced to build mortar shells in place of mobile shells. And with a falling global economy, the military transgressions on land and in sea will only increase as diversionary narrative. Remember the 1962 war was started by China to draw attention away from its CPC-created famine.  

What should you actually ban?

Actually nothing. Do exactly the reverse. Involve Chinese capital into more of your start-ups and projects. Invite more Chinese to work in India, settle down and almost merge into the social fabric. Have more Chinese brands set up integrated commercial operations in India catering to us as well as the world. 

China is a very insular country and culture. The Forbidden City and the Great Wall are telling examples of people living within themselves, blocking out ‘impurities’ in the form of cultures, people, thoughts and lifestyles. Huen Tsang and Fa Hien had to travel out to bring back fresh thoughts, philosophies and learnings. They are “Chenggkuo”, the centre of the earth and that manifests in a very self-centred way of growing and prospering. 

That is precisely their chink in the wall. The CPC fears infusion of fresh cultures, fresh thoughts and fresh questions the most. Therefore, all dissent is exiled, if not exterminated. A writer will be sent away to the US while a Uighur that refuses to get brain-washed will be buried. Most Chinese citizens live the world’s longest running “lockdown”! Therefore, exposing them to any semblance of free life will be the CPC’s biggest fear. How many can they exile or exterminate? 

Get more Chinese more involved and invested in the economies and cultures of other countries so much that any planned or deliberate damage to these investments will be detrimental to their own economic growth. And a deterrent to the PLA too. 

Does the farmer who gets better value using a Chinese implement with his tractor really want to ban Chinese products? Does an automotive component maker who gets best value from Chinese inputs want to ban them? Similarly, does the pharma company that uses Chinese molecules wish them away? No way.

Post-World War 2 did the world ban Mercedes-Benz or BMW or Thyssen or Grundig? Similarly, were Italian and Japanese products banned? Did any country ban McDonalds or Levi’s even after the US meddled big time in its internal politics? Unless you were an authoritarian government that could pass diktats without the will of the people.

China is currently at its most vulnerable as an authoritarian regime. Unemployment in the age band of 18 to 24 years is as high as 15%. The exiled intellectuals are getting more vociferous by the day through digital and social media. The Uighur and Tibet issues are taking much more time to sort than planned for. North Korea is literally a loose cannon. Russia is surely not happy playing second fiddle. And Hong Kong is carrying a beacon of freedom of expression to millions of youth in mainland China. Deng Xiaopeng had foreseen the market economy as a tool to keep the CPC relevant. That market economy is teaching the average Chinese fresh lessons beyond its intended role. There is a strong undercurrent of social unrest in China which should be supported to come out into the open and force a fundamental socio-political restructuring. Yet another Tiananmen cannot be repressed.  

This is our time to help and not ban a Chinese product or app.

That Chinese app that you use is a symbol of their innovation. That Chinese automobile is an example of their ingenuity. That Chinese smartphone is an example of their power to integrate. Through each of these the average Chinese reaches out to the world. And encourages us as an Indian to better them in the global market and not merely ban them from our own. 

The Communist Party of China is the bane. 

The average Chinese is surely a boon.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Avik Chattopadhyay

The author is an auto industry consultant and cofounder of Expereal.

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