India vs China: A Brewing War Between Borders and Technology

India China TikTok Banned
Image Courtesy TechCrunch

For those who may not be up to date on their tech news, India’s government banned nearly 60 Chinese mobile apps on Monday. The most affected ones being TikTok, UC Browser, Xender and WeChat due to their massive amounts of Indian users. This drastic move raises at least two important questions though. Why this is happening and what will this rivalry between India and China mean for the tech world.

India vs China

Let’s start with the ‘why’. There’s been an ongoing feud between the two over a shared border for a while now. A deadly clash between India and China’s militaries this month has raised tensions between them.

The climax of this dispute came two weeks ago when it left 20 Indian soldiers dead and an unknown number of Chinese casualties. This was the worst state of violence between the two nuclear-armed countries in more than 50 years.

It was at this time, in the midst of war, that India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology stepped in. In a sort of ‘Tit for Tat’ move by India, they banned 59 Chinese specific apps.
They note that they received many complaints about misuse and transmission of user data by some Chinese mobile apps to servers outside India. In a statement, they note that the apps were “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner”.
Focussing on the ban, these are the reasons India has put across to defend their move. They say that the apps are engaging in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India. This includes the defence of India, security of the state and the public order.
This is not the first time this has happened. After a 2017 clash between India’s and China’s militaries over another border dispute, Indian troops were forced to delete dozens of Chinese apps from their phones over national security concerns.
This time, they have taken another step and removed the apps from the Play Store and the App Store. Internet Service Providers have also been asked by the government to block access and data to these apps.
So, what does this mean for the rest of the tech world?

Effects on the Tech Community

Apps and Websites Hardest Hit

About 50 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion citizens are online. Of that number, 120 million make a third of the TikTok’s global users. This is a significantly huge number owing to the fact that they could affect the TikTok ratings on the Google Play Store in a matter of days.

As much as India has had its say, China is not silent either. Indian newspapers and websites are not accessible in China. Users in the country have to use VPNs to be able to access information and news from India.

This move seems to have been in the works for some time as the Indian government has had longstanding worries that Chinese companies are dominating local markets. That they are beating out Indian app developers, it also has national security concerns about what China does with the data it collects.

India’s announcement highlights how technology companies are increasingly becoming entangled in geopolitical disputes. In China, American platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Wikipedia and many others have long been banned. If China is not careful, they may be so focused on America and lose India.

Ban on Huawei and 5G

Let’s take at Huawei for a bit. The Chinese telecommunications giant has been the subject of some of the greatest scrutiny too. American authorities are pushing allies to ban the company from building wireless networks. This is over claims that it aids the Chinese state in cyberespionage. Huawei has denied the accusations but no one seems to be disproving them either.

In light of the recent events, the Indian government has begun consultations to decide on the use of 5G technology. They note that it is a precursor to a possible bar on the use of equipment from Chinese companies. For example, those made by Huawei, when India rolls out the high-speed network.

What’s Next?

For now, the government says the ban is interim. The banned apps will be given a chance to respond to the government’s concerns before a committee that includes various ministries. The committee will then recommend whether to remove the ban or continue it.

We’re not sure how things will go from here. With the Coronavirus pandemic still underway, things might, unfortunately, take a turn for the worst this year. For these apps, loosing almost 150 million users takes a toll, no matter who you are.

Hardware-wise too, China will be heavily affected with this move should it result in for example cancellation of their tech imports. They will definitely try and appeal for this to be retracted.

If China, arguably the worlds largest source of technology and India, arguably the worlds largest source of ‘users’, don’t work together, the tech ecosystem is in for an unpleasant rollercoaster ride.

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