Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Slicing Through the Chinese High-Tech Economy Propaganda

(Courtesy: India TV)



The Indian government’s decision to put 59 applications originating from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has literally sliced through the Chinese economic propaganda of ‘interdependence and harmony’ that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its propaganda arms, especially Global Times has been boasting about since the soldiers’ clash in the Galwan valley. This hits the Chinese where it hurts them the most, since these application developers and software companies represent the high-end Chinese software and hardware prowess that was being used to project CCP’s soft power push of an advanced hi-tech society, an alternative to the democratic virtues and ideals that mean so much to countries like India.

One must bear in mind that this step has not come out in isolation. Concerns about Chinese apps have been doing the rounds for months on a stretch now, with politicos and people alike raising questions on privacy concerns arising from them. Policy experts have noted how several apps need to be pushed out of the Indian market as they are excellent tools of spreading misinformation and have also ended up spreading the propaganda of the Chinese government. People have been arguing that the Chinese apps get economic benefits through Indian money earned by this app owners, while getting away with the propaganda.

In April 2020, a video by United States of America’s Republican Senator Josh Hawley went viral on social media in India. In this video, Senator Hawley said that he planned on introducing a legislation to ban the popular Chinese social media app TikTok, owned by the Chinese company Bytedance, as the permissions sought by the app were highly intrusive and worrisome, and data was essentially being stolen. This was but picking up from where several political representatives, cutting across party lines, had left off some time back - in July 2019, Opposition party MPs in Parliament had called for a ban on some Chinese apps, accusing it of helping to spread fake news and malicious content, and illegally collecting data and sending it to China. Even allies of the Narendra Modi government now coming forth to demand a ban on some of these apps. Moreover, the judiciary was already talking tough on some of these apps to the point of examining some form of regulation to prevent misinformation or even issuing notices in response to petitions seeking a ban.

Many of these Apps are Security Concerns

Intelligence agencies of India had red-flagged several apps, recommending their blockage or discouraging their usage because there were several issues of data and privacy related to them. India has not been the only one to express concerns with the Chinese apps - the United States, Australia, Taiwan and the Philippines observing these concerns among a bevy of nations. Several independent cybersecurity experts and independent think tanks have repeatedly flagged concerns on the Chinese hardware and software players. Even smartphone companies and hardware manufacturers have been repeatedly embroiled in scandals on sharing information without the knowledge of the product/app users to their ‘servers’ in China, with some even being accused of having installed Chinese spy chips in their devices.

Even connections with the Chinese military have been a cause of concern. Further, the links of several companies with the military and government are seen just as concerning. Links of the so-called technology giants of China like Baidu, Weibo and Tencent with the CCP have been well established. Moreover, many of the high-end technology companies of China have been involved with serious violations of freedoms of liberty by participating in the artificial intelligence-based surveillance state projects of the CCP in China, which are particularly active in restive provinces like Xinjiang and Tibet.

Answering the CCP in a Language It Understands
CCP has been given a response in a manner that hurts its interests the most. With their high-end companies being denied access to the world’s largest market, a strong signal has been sent out – India is not to be messed with in any which way.

Chinese technology companies profit from stealing other people’s intellectual property, and are given preference within China with the CCP governance architecture blocking similar platforms and creating a parallel internet architecture to control and regulate the flow of information through the Great Firewall – a modern day Soviet propaganda machinery which no other country, forget democracy has even has attempted to recreate so far. This is a blatant violation of basic human liberties and a violation of market equity that it is supposed to follow, being an apparent adherent to the World Trade Organization. Contrast this with the openness of the Indian market where Indian companies do not enjoy any special privilege or benefit in this space, much to their chagrin. It is also noteworthy that most of the platforms China blocks, like Google, YouTube, Twitter are heavily used by Indian content creators; thus content creators from India are practically denied access to the Chinese market through this Chinese Firewall. 

This ban hurts these companies financially too, the only language that the CCP understands. ByteDance, which owns Tiktok for instance, loses $500,000 every day if it is not available in India, and the Indian market contributes 15-20% of the total global revenue for the Chinese app SHAREit. Similarly, the Indian market forms a significant chunk of Zoom’s growth many other Chinese apps like Helo, UC Browser, PUBG, Shein, Club Factory, Vigo and Beauty Plus, many of whom have been found to seriously violate privacy issues and sharing data without users’ knowledge to servers within China.

India has actually become the only country other than the United States to take actions that hurt the Chinese economic interests and symbolically puts their high-tech companies with ties to the government and military in an uncomfortable spotlight. While some fanatics will continue to shout for blood, nothing less has been drawn from a dispensation that only values the colour of money and not the blood of its people. The real issue is with the government of China, and not its people – with such an incisive cut being inflicted on the malevolent CCP, the government has actually also managed to make that distinction between the people and the government. While the world awaits to see what the Chinese will do next, India certainly has made a bold move to counter the high-handed brashness on display from the Chinese regime. It has been trying to stoke tensions with all its neighbours – China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan – and tried to bully Australis alongside inviting the United States’ ire. India however has hit back hard, and delivered a strong message that national interest is paramount to any and every economic interest. This round has akin to a shock and awe tactic that one would rather see on the battle field, but in today’s world the battle fields are not just on the ground – they are very much in the economic sphere as well, which India has amply leveraged. 

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