The ban on 59 Chinese apps by the Indian government and impeding of Chinese imports comes as a golden opportunity to domestic companies
Recently, 20 Indian soldiers died in clashes with the Chinese army in Ladakh's Galwan Valley. While we are still fuzzy on some details (did the Chinese actually enter Indian territory? If they did not as was mentioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then how did our brave soldiers die?), India has responded by attacking China where it hurts most — trade and economics. While our country's economy, like many others, is heavily dependent on Chinese imports and it is early days yet to predict the dent it will have on China, the ongoing tensions have definitely come as an opportunity for desi businesses.
To be clear, this development does come at a most challenging time. It is puzzling that China would use the time of a global pandemic, which incidentally originated on its own soil, to flex its muscle in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan, and India. But then, the global flux caused by COVID-19 and US facing its own two-pronged challenge of Coronavirus and President Donald Trump (some would say the latter is a bigger threat to the Americans than the virus), has given China the steroid to act in aggression. Every problem comes with opportunities, and while the COVID-19 outbreak has truly left few slivers of hope, India could use this time to further push its 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' and 'Go Vocal for Local' campaigns.
We are not a global manufacturing hub yet; there were targets set to achieve that many years ago but we are not close to achieving it. Even when the China-US faceoff was recently afoot, we did not manage to wean away too many companies from China to India. Japan and Canada were likely to witness increased exports to the tune of over USD 20 billion each. Vietnam benefitted the most next, from the trade war, with 5 per cent export gains followed by Australia (4.6 per cent), Brazil (3.8 per cent), and then India (3.5 per cent), according to a study by the United Nations in 2019.
Indian traders have demanded that most online goods bear the 'country of origin' tag, and our government has agreed. This along with the recent ban of 59 Chinese apps provides a fortuitous turn of events for Indian manufacturers. Conscious consumer behaviour will surely help but as long as Indian companies can provide similar quality at competitive prices. Chinese products have flooded global markets due to a few factors — the Chinese make everything and they make it well and most importantly, they make it cheap! But can Indian manufacturers, IT giants, and tech startups gain from this? Simply banning Chinese apps or impeding Chinese imports means that there is a vacuum that has been created, but one that can very easily be filled up by other countries.
Thankfully, where the 59 apps are concerned, there are already several Indian ones ready and willing to replace Chinese ones. While TikTok should have anyway be banned for its banality and creation of a generation of idle minds, if you are addicted to it, there is Roposo/Chingari/Sharechat instead of TikTok; Shareall/Z Share instead of Shareit, Jio Browser/Bharat Browser instead of UC Browser, Kaagaz Scanner instead of CamScanner and so on.
Why we do not already have an Indian app that has taken over the world, befuddles all of us but in some hearty development, Indian tech leaders, investors, startups, and professionals are now rising up the occasion to build and push 'Made in India' applications. The Government of India is also set to launch a programme offering sops and incentives to domestic companies to build social media apps, email, video, and other services. Building apps is a faster exercise than ramping up manufacturing capabilities overnight. Manufacturing would require more thought and detailed plan of action than knee jerk reactions and patriotic calls.
Knowing diplomacy and the need for global trade, parleys with the Chinese government and apps will eventually lead to a mutual understanding, paving the way for the return of Chinese imports and apps…so, desi companies, make hay while the sun shines.
The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal