India’s Ministry of Information and Technology banned 118 Chinese mobile applications on Wednesday, citing national security concerns.
The move comes amid growing geopolitical tensions between the two countries following a violent border clash in June.
An official press release from the IT Ministry read, “under section 69A of the Information Technology Act, the ministry, has in view of the emergent nature of threats, decided to block 118 mobile apps … since in view of the information available, they are engaged in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state and public order.”
The release also noted that these apps, available on Android and iOS platforms, were being used to breach data privacy and send users’ information illegally to foreign servers.
“This decision is a targeted move to ensure safety, security and sovereignty of the Indian cyberspace,” the statement said, adding that the step would, therefore, ensure the protection of the interests of millions of mobile users in India.
The list of the outlawed apps includes Tencent’s popular game PUBG Mobile, which has had great success in India with over 50 million active players and around 13 million daily users. The app was released in India in 2018 and has since gathered a massive footprint of 93 million with a revenue regeneration of a whopping US$39 million. PUBG Lite has also been banned but the desktop version of the PUBG game continues to be functional.
Other prominent apps that have been forbidden are the Baidu app, Tencent’s WeChat Reading app and Ant Group’s Alipay, one of China’s popular mobile payment services. The list also covers apps of several photo editing softwares, online payment services, dating sites, etc. However, some of these apps, such as Alipay, which is unavailable for local consumers, do not have a big market presence in India.
This is the second digital strike against China by the Indian administration after 59 China-based apps, including Bytedance’s famous digital-sharing platform TikTok, Alibaba’s UC Browser and Tencent’s WeChat, were banned in June. In July, 47 more apps were proscribed. The latest action takes the total number of banned Chinese apps in India to 224.
According to sources, the Indian government will not remove the ban on Chinese apps until the border situation improves.
India has also decided to prohibit Chinese companies from entering its 5G mobile network infrastructure, besides limiting bilateral trade. Stricter approval processes have been introduced for Chinese players who want to invest in India and participating in government tenders has been made harder.
Global experts consider that, like the United States, more nations could emulate India’s action plan of a digital crackdown on Chinese apps to hurt the country’s economy at a time when China is facing a bitter international sentiment.
In August, the US government, which has been at loggerheads with China since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, had passed two executive orders prohibiting transactions with Chinese companies that own TikTok and WeChat. The Trump administration had emphasized the need for aggressive action to safeguard America’s national security.
China’s response to India’s ban
China condemned India’s decision to remove several China-based apps from its cyberspace. It accused the Indian government of not only breaching the “legal rights and interests” of Chinese investors and service providers but also harming the interests of Indian consumers.
Rejecting India’s concern of national security threat in a statement given to an Indian news agency PTI, Chinese Commerce Ministry representative Gao Feng said, ”The Indian side abused the concept of ‘national security’ and adopted discriminatory restrictive measures against Chinese companies, violating relevant World Trade Organisation rules. China urges India to correct its wrong practices.”
China went on to criticize India for disturbing the peace and straining relations between the two neighboring countries.
“Since the start of this year, India has repeatedly violated bilateral agreements and important consensus,” said Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson.
Chunying also hinted at a possible understanding between India and the US on the issue to undermine China’s interests as the US-China relationship has been tumultuous since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and the White House sees India as its strongest ally in South Asia.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy in India urged the Indian government to abide by global trade rules and provide a level playing field for international businesses, including those from China.
Tension along the border
A bitter standoff between the two Asian heavyweights started in May this year with the eruption of border skirmishes that climaxed in June when the Indian and the Chinese troops indulged in violent clashes at Galwan Valley in the Ladakh region. Both sides had suffered casualties.
Eventually, the two countries decided to disengage, resulting in a brief period of peace but the situation escalated again around the end of August.
The Defence Ministers of India and China met in Moscow on September 4 on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit. This was the first ministerial-level interaction between the two nations since troubles mounted in May.
India’s Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh, said at the meeting, “Peace and security in the region demands a climate of trust, non-aggression, peaceful resolution of differences and respect for international rules.” The Indian side maintained that unless peace was restored in the border areas, it was impossible to be in a “business as usual” state in bilateral ties although it mentioned that India was open to the idea of resolving the outstanding issues through meaningful dialogue.
The Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe was reported to have told his Indian counterpart that both nations should “maintain peace and tranquillity” but the responsibility “lies completely with India.”
Tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which is the demarcation line that separates India and China, have been at some of the highest levels in the last few months since the 1962 war between the neighbors.
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