A few weeks ago, the Indian government had banned 59 Chinese apps on the grounds that they were a threat to national security. The initial ban was triggered by a border conflict that took place between the two nations. Now, New Delhi has banned 47 more Chinese apps, which are all variations or clones of the previously banned 59.
“Although the decision is based on the fact the new apps are the clones of the previously banned apps, we believe that this signals a strong intent from the Indian government’s point of view on their stand about data security and privacy… This will surely open up a lot of discussion about other apps as well,” Tarun Pathak, associate director at Counterpoint Research, said to CNN. The banned apps include TikTok Lite, BIGO LIVE Lite, SHAREit Lite, Helo Lite, and so on.
The Indian government has also prepared a list of 250 Chinese apps that will soon be scrutinized as to whether they pose a threat to the country. These apps include a few that have ties to Alibaba. Popular game app PUBG is also on the list. After the ban, Indian apps have surged in popularity. Most of the Indian TikTok users have shifted to local alternatives like Mitron, Chingari, Roposo, and so on. The damage caused by the ban on the reputation of Chinese apps is severe.
Even if New Delhi were to relax rules on Chinese apps, Indian smartphone users will likely stay away due to the risk that they could be banned any time if bilateral relations were to worsen. Beijing is furious at India’s decision and has asked New Delhi to revoke the ban so that Chinese apps can do business in the country. It accused the Indian government of “deliberate interference.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stated that Chinese companies abide by international and local laws and that the Indian government has the responsibility to uphold the rights of foreign investors, including those from China.
However, this argument is problematic. Chinese laws require tech companies to hand over user data whenever the government demands. Since the privacy of users cannot be guaranteed, how are other nations expected to believe that personal data of its citizens will not be at risk? Clearly, this is not permissible. In fact, the demand for banning Chinese apps like TikTok is strengthening in the U.S. as well. A group of Republican Senators recently expressed concern that China might use TikTok to influence the upcoming U.S. elections.
India’s Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) has recommended that Chinese foreign direct investments (FDI) should be restricted to 25 percent. Tarun Bajaj, secretary DEA, noted that national security should be prioritized over all other interests. In April, the Indian government announced that investments from neighboring nations would need to seek prior approval.
At present, around 200 investment proposals from China are waiting for security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs. An official from the government revealed that many of these proposals are likely to be withdrawn due to the stringent conditions put forward by the Indian government. The new FDI norms are also aimed at preventing the opportunistic takeover of Indian companies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.