If Chinese Products are Powering Even Our News Debates, Does #BoycottChina Have a Hope in Hell?


If Chinese Products are Powering Even Our News Debates, Does #BoycottChina Have a Hope in Hell?

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

India’s new “angry young man” Arnab Goswami was conducting a debate last night on the India-China conflict taking place in Ladakh. The hashtag for the night was #ChinaGetOut, splashed across the screen in huge screaming font. Typical Republic TV fashion. However, as Goswani called for all diplomatic and economic disengagement with China, social media users pointed out the irony of it all: The show was “Powered by VIVO”, a Chinese company.

The sentiment over boycotting Chinese products is all the rage these days. This family from Surat, who threw their TV out of the balcony, is leading by example.

Every day, there’s a new hashtag trending that reads #Boycott<insert Chinese company name here>. WhatsApp is full of forwards containing lists of companies that we are supposed to boycott and the alternative Indian companies that we must support instead. This is only way to become “atmanirbhar”, as PM Narendra Modi had urged last month. So caught up are people in emotions that even Resident Welfare Associations are urging members to “throw Chinese goods on the roads”.

However, once we get over all the hysteria and rage, there doesn’t seem to be much wisdom in the clamour for a complete boycott of Chinese goods. As pointed out by Vivek Kaul in Business Insider, “India’s imports from China form around 3% of China’s overall exports. Hence, any attempt to stop import of Chinese goods is not going to monetarily hit China much. Over the years, the country has diversified its trade. On the slip side China’s imports from India make up 4.4% of India’s exports. So as a country, India is slightly more dependent on China than vice versa.”

A case has also been made for that fact that Indian consumers buy Chinese products out of free will because they are cheaper and better. If they believed Indian alternates offered more value for money, they would have gone for them. A boycott would mean we would have to manufacture these items locally, which would be more expensive and probably a possible compromise on quality. While trade bodies’ and corporations might celebrate calls for banning of Chinese goods, it is Indian consumers who will bear the brunt. And that too in a lower-middle income category where the spending power is limited.

A piece in Quartz India argued that Swadeshi ideology under current circumstances would be like “enthusiastically advocating self-harm”. “By squandering capital and resources in uncompetitive sectors, swadeshi ensures the production of uncompetitive goods and services. Even during the freedom movement, swadeshi caused a lot of hardship to poor people,” it argued.

While the anger against Chinese aggression is most certainly understandable, it will require calmer heads to ponder on the economic questions. “Can India afford to boycott Chinese products?” and “Should India boycott Chinese products?” are questions that will have to be answered by studying facts and data, and not WhatsApp forwards.