We Can’t #BoycottChina, China Is In Our Blood
Indian-Tibetan activists take out a protest rally against China,  at Mcleodganj in Dharamshala, on June 19, 2020. (Photograph: PTI)

We Can’t #BoycottChina, China Is In Our Blood

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In recent years we’ve expanded the scope of the word anti-national to include students, academics, Muslims, industrialists who ask pertinent questions, all Kashmiris, human rights activists, and organisations, peaceful protestors (especially women), journalists, migrants, government critics, Dalits, love jihadis, left-liberals, poets, beef eaters and, of course, our long-deceased first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

We Can’t #BoycottChina, China Is In Our Blood

Now, instead of demanding accountability from our government for the murder of 20 soldiers on the Sino-Indian border, we’ve added a new antinational category: Indians who refuse to sign up for the #BoycottChina ‘movement’. At least that’s what not-news channel Times Now referred to the ill-thought-out online call to boycott Chinese products with a video of Bharatiya Janata Party workers vandalising toy shops in Mumbai. We shouldn't be surprised. Vandalism has been patriotic for a while now.

Times Now and other Prime Time Patriots should drop all advertisers of Chinese brands and build a bonfire of all the broadcasting equipment they've acquired from India’s biggest import partner. Air this live, TRPs are guaranteed.

Broadcasting equipment is one of the most popular imports from China, close on the heels of computer equipment.
An anchor for a news channel, is seen on the monitor of a television camera. (Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg)
An anchor for a news channel, is seen on the monitor of a television camera. (Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg)

Embedded Into Critical Supplies

Boycotting China will take more than some uncles throwing a television from a balcony, an innovator filming himself in a picturesque location predicting World War III, and scrapping isolated contracts between the two countries.

Will the Indian armed forces junk all information and communication technology equipment with a China connection? Is the government going to end its Ujjwala scheme which provides Indians with inexpensive LED bulbs because many of the bulb components come from China? How will Narendra Modi’s All India Computer Saksharta Mission—to bring a computer revolution to every village of India—be executed without the world’s biggest producer of computers? If we do decide to set up additional manufacturing facilities to Make In India, how much of the machinery and mechanical components in these factories will be imported from China? Are we going to pause all ongoing infrastructure projects that have Chinese partners or use heavy machinery from that country? Many of the tunnel-boring machines worming their way under our cities for metro projects are made in China.

Indian pharmaceutical companies import billions of dollars of active pharmaceutical ingredients or bulk drugs from China.

If you’ve ingested antibiotics or vitamins, China is in your blood, literally.
Vials sit in a laboratory for the extraction of active pharmaceutical ingredients, at the Xiyuan Hospital in Beijing, China. (Photographer: Giulia Marchi/Bloomberg)
Vials sit in a laboratory for the extraction of active pharmaceutical ingredients, at the Xiyuan Hospital in Beijing, China. (Photographer: Giulia Marchi/Bloomberg)

Also read: India-China Standoff: What Cards Does India Hold To Play?

Cultural Bias, But Appropriation Too

China is a visible presence at every Indian celebration, religious or birthday. The late defence minister Manohar Parrikar once complained at a seminar that Ganesha idols imported from China had narrower eyes. In the time of the coronavirus, Indians from the northeast and celebrities like Meiyang Chang and Jwala Gutta, have already shared stories about harassment, abuse, and name-calling. Their lives are set to get tougher as India flexes its prejudices.

We still haven’t apologised for what we did to our Chinese-Indian citizens in 1962, surely we don't want to repeat a version of the same mistake nearly 60 years later? We’re already rewriting Mughal history, will we whiteout China too?

The Chinese cuisine that Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athavale wants to ban is not Chinese, it’s Sino-Ludhianvi as food columnist Vir Sanghvi is fond of saying.

Eating Triple Schezwan Rice is a culinary marker of our Indianness.

This food is everywhere including in our most ‘Indian’ restaurants. Like most Udupi restaurants across the country, Sri Chakreshwari Juice Center, Madhura Veg, and Woodlands Restaurant all located in the coastal town of Udupi—the place this genre of restaurants got its name from—serve Chinese food.

A view of a Chinese restaurant, at Chinatown in Kolkata, on  June 19, 2020. (Photographer: Swapan Mahapatra/PTI)
A view of a Chinese restaurant, at Chinatown in Kolkata, on  June 19, 2020. (Photographer: Swapan Mahapatra/PTI)

“Dragon beware. Patriots have started boycotting your products,” one Twitter handle warned. I even had a nightmare about this.

The setting was our kitchen. “Should we get rid of the bottles of star anise and five spice before we are arrested for sedition?” I asked the husband who was stir-frying a suspicious-looking meat in the wok using copious quantities of dark and light soy sauce—for colour and seasoning, respectively. “And the soy.” He ignored me and threw in some rice vinegar.

“We’ll have to stop patronising Big Basket and Zomato. Our daughter will never have the chance to fall in love with Jackie Chan’s madness or quote Confucius. She won’t be able to take most sports seriously, since most sporting equipment comes from China. No online learning for her, ever. And we’ll have to end our subscription to everything. Yes, even Netflix.”

“I think it’s done,” the husband said, tasting his creation and looking mighty pleased with himself. “Don’t worry,” he told me. “We're already classified as anti-national. This new ban won't affect us.” He turned around and it was Bruce Lee. I woke up with a start.

A statue of late martial arts movie star Bruce Lee is displayed along the Avenue of Stars in Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg News)
A statue of late martial arts movie star Bruce Lee is displayed along the Avenue of Stars in Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg News)

What Gadget Will You Be Left With?

Are all Indians ready to throw away their laptops because most of them are at least partly Chinese? Judging by the speed at which the OnePlus 8 Pro smartphone sold out on Amazon India on June 18, it seems unlikely.

The rhetoric often trends only on social media and not in the real world. A quick survey by the Indian Institute of Human Brands found that while 84% of us want celebrities to stop endorsing Chinese brands, only 21% would uninstall TikTok because it was a Chinese app. For a few years now, TikTok has had the pulse of Indian aspirations and eccentricities.

A quick question here for Twitter users who are asking people to uninstall Chinese apps (like Zoom) and replace with non-Chinese alternatives (like Google Meet). What about the Chinese components on the devices that will be used to run any app, even one that’s not Chinese?

A political activist climbs a JCB machine to blacken a banner of a Chinese mobile phone manufacturer, in Patna, on June 18, 2020. (Photograph: PTI)
A political activist climbs a JCB machine to blacken a banner of a Chinese mobile phone manufacturer, in Patna, on June 18, 2020. (Photograph: PTI)

Also read: Can India Convert Anti-China Fury Into An Economic Revolution?

Take non-Chinese cellphone brands for example. South Korea’s Samsung Galaxy range of phones—the only non-Chinese brand in the top five bestselling smartphone brands—recently upped its component purchases from China to cut costs. Nokia Networks may be Finnish but it has a manufacturing plant in Suzhou, China. All smartphones and computers require batteries. Guess which country is the global leader in lithium ion battery production?

There’s a silver lining to all this sound and fury. If all ‘patriotic’ Indians actually throw away the cellphones and computers that have even one component sourced from China, and uninstall all apps with any China connection, spreading online hate and fake news through the ether will become virtually impossible.

Priya Ramani is a Bangalore-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.

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