India And China: The Digital Tussle


The relationship between China and India, also known as Sino- Indian relations, have varied over the passage of time. The two nations have sought after economic corporations with one another, with the border dispute being the highlight. India was the nation who ended the ties with Taiwan and perceived their people as a legitimate government of Mainland China. In 2012 China stated that Sino – Indian ties could be the most important bilateral partnership.

The relationship between both the countries have been described by border disputes, which resulted into three military clashes – the Sino -Indian War of 1962, the Cho La occurrence in 1967, and the 1987 Sino – Indian skirmish. In 2017, both the countries conflicted at the Doklam level along the disputed Sino -Bhutanese border. On 5 May 2020, Chinese and Indian troops were involved in the aggressive melee, face-offs and skirmishes at Ladakh.

India and China are among the fastest-growing economies in the world. India was the largest importer of Chinese goods and services in the world. The trade deficit between India and China is the widest in trading partners. It is an indisputable fact that Chinese products are cheaper than Indian products. Besides this, the Chinese government also gives subsidies to its exporters. Further, while India spends 9% on transportation, energy, etc, there are no duties imposed by India on import from China. 


The outrage over the killing of soldiers has led to calls for banning trade with China. In response, the Indian Government banned 59 Chinese apps because it was a concern for data security and national sovereignty. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology declared that they received various complaints from different sources about the misuse of mobile apps available on phones as stealing and transmitting data outside India, which created the need to ban apps like Tik Tok, Share it, WeChat, Club Factory, Vmate, Cam Scanner, viva -video, and many more apps. The decision to boycott the Chinese apps is the message from India to China’s Nibble and negotiate policy and will review the norms of engagement. 


The Constitution of India has given freedom of expression under Article 19 (1)(a) and the apps like Tik Tok and many more are the platform for expression but these bans lead to challenging the provision

The Kerala High Court has held that interfering with someone’s access to the internet is the violation of the right to privacy [1]. Further, the court, in Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India [2], observed that suspension of the internet leads to an abuse of power and the order in the Faheema case will not be overruled.  Right of freedom of speech and expression must be inclusive and available to every single individual but in a meaningful manner. In the case of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union of India [3], the court observed that right must be viewed as a network of interconnected freedoms that complement each other. The main objective of imposing a ban is related to public order and national security under Art 19 (2). Since the ban imposed is not arbitrary.


Owing to the price-sensitive nature of the Indian market, they need to lower the prices of products to survive in the market. Indian consumers mainly focus on the price of the products. A ban on Chinese merchandise will lead to an increase in the inflation rate in India, largely impacting the middle-income group. Chinese products are a crucial part of the supply in various sectors in India.  With the economic trouble with this pandemic, this digital struggle between the nations could escalate supply chain risks.

Key affected areas:

Pharmaceuticals – India depends on China for about 70 % of the ingredients of the Pharmaceutical or APIs used in drugs. 

Auto – China is the main supplier of things like the Engine, electronics, tires, etc.

Telecommunication – China supplies smartphones like Xiaomi, Oppo, etc. in India and globally. Their smartphones are cheap so the people who are economically weak can buy those smartphones but this dispute may lead to a rise in the prices of smartphones.

There are four types of Chinese apps functioning in India – Economic Activity Apps, Service-Oriented Apps, Vanity Apps, and Strategic Apps. The decision to ban Chinese apps has a significant outcome because a larger part of the Indian population uses those apps, for example, Chinese app Tik Tok has more than 100 million users in India. When Tik Tok was banned for a week they lost 3.7 Crores rupees a day. Many Indian creators who use these apps for the source of income will suffer a huge loss. But, after banning these apps, a substitute like Roposo for Tik Tok saw a sudden increase in its new users. Also, Chrome continues to be the foremost browsing app in India, and firms like Google can also be benefited from the banning of UC browser. 

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The Tibetan refugees in Delhi, who utilize We chat app to connect with their families in Tibet were left with no option because social media like WhatsApp, Facebook are prohibited in Tibet. A ban on apps for securing data is not entirely a new thing. China has also banned mobile apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, and instead, has provided alternatives to those apps. In the digital era coupled with global lockdown, mobile apps have become user commodities rather than a luxury. This cannot only help Indian entrepreneurs to fill the market gaps but affect China’s ambitious goals to become a digital superpower.

All over India, public pressure is increasing to prohibit all Chinese products, from food to technology. In June 2020, the Delhi hotels and the owners of the association had announced that the Chinese nationals were not allowed in their hotels all over the capital city.

The Confederation of All India Traders has announced a list of 450 Chinese products to boycott over continued border skirmishes. After the death of Indian soldiers, our Union Minister said that restaurants serving Chinese food should also be banned. 

India’s ban on Chinese Apps tangled the life for Indian Tech Companies in China like OYO, the second-largest hotel group which has a huge market in China that could face consequences after this digital strike.  

After this ban, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has exited Weibo, causing a sudden end of Weibo diplomacy which was launched in 2015 to communicate with China people before his first visit to China.


While China redress with economic measures, its impact on India is large because India imports more than China. In 2019, 5.1% of India’s exports were destined for China, whereas only 3% of China’s exports came to India. Also, 13.7% of India’s imports were from China, while only 0.9% of China’s were from India. Even the Indian unicorns have a Chinese investor.


The ban has given an impetus to various homegrown applications. Users of prohibited browsers could shift to similar features. Applications like Chingari, an Indian  competitor to Tik Tok, saw an increase in its users after the ban of Chinese Apps. Similarly, Cam Scanner also has alternatives like Zoho Doc Scanner, which helps users to import files en masse from Cam scanner, and AdobeScan. 


A few months ago, Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi encouraged the nation to go “Vocal for local”. He encouraged and tried to persuade the citizens of India to buy and promote local goods and brands. He stated that only when people start purchasing and supporting local goods only then they become global. He is trying to make India self -reliant. This led to boycotting Chinese goods and services. We have to create our ecosystem; this is our ‘Atma Nirbhar’ program as said by our Prime Minister, as Indians were and are famous to adopt the new technologies very fast, but are slow and not best when it comes to creating digital media platforms. The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has launched a flagship campaign “BHARTIYA SAMAAN, HAMARA ABHIMAAN” for banning Chinese apps. The CAIT has given a list of 500 items like FMCG products, consumer durables, toys, textiles, etc. to be boycotted.

If all the above things are boycotted and Indian products are used, it will cut imports by Rs 1 lakh Crores by December 2021. In light of the same, they have requested Indian manufacturers to take full advantage of this and make their products known to the world. Although we may see these bans as an effective tool to deal with some unavoidable situations, these bans hamper the development of our country irreversibly. The ban indicates that it was an impulsive decision after the attack in Galwan valley. The fight must be done but in a constructive manner. But in the era of globalization, if we cut productivity it only hampers our growth. The government should apply constructive solutions to the challenges faced by Indians. An effective boycott will increase the domestic prices in the short run, but the resultant higher prices in India and promote local goods production and increase imports from somewhere else. Through this, there will be employment generated and the rise of economic activity. We ought to kick out the habit of over-reliance on China. Boycotting Chinese goods and services must start as a mass development and help the Government with tariff and non-tariff moves.



[1] Faheema Shirin v. State of Kerala WP(C)NO. 19716/2019 (L).

[2] Anuradha Bhasin V. Union of India WP (Civil) No. 1031/2019.

[3] Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) V. Union of India (2017)10 SCC 1.

BY- Shambhavi Sinha | Banasthali Vidyapith

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