As Chinese and Indian diplomats at the highest levels meet for negotiation regarding the Ladakh border standoff, it behoves us to reflect upon the scores of public figures and influencers who emerged with content promoting a ban on goods and services manufactured in China. An analysis of the intent and consequences of policies based upon such ideologies and exploring alternative approaches is fitting.
Based on my social media algorithm, I observed two parallel movements that came together to form the #BoycottMadeInChina. The first was #BanTiktok movement, which emerged to undermine Tiktok influencers, some with even a wider outreach than mainstream influencers on Youtube and Instagram. Netizens caught a glimpse of these inferiority and/or superiority complexes and their ensuing insecurities respectively in the infamous YouTube video of Carry Minati, which was later banned by the platform under the case of ‘bullying’.
Looking at the issue from a classist and casteist lens, it undeniably makes for an interesting and innovative tool to ensure that the marginalised remain on the margins. Much like how the caste system ensures the oppressed remain oppressed through generations, a society based upon class divisions — on the basis of inadequate access to resources to the poor — undermines and limits the poor class’ chances of upliftment.
The second Boycott-China movement happened around the same time, when reports of skirmishes between the Indian and Chinese forces in Sikkim and Ladakh emerged. This resulted in the #BoycottMadeInChina movement by the right-wing. Influencers under the banner of #BanTiktok saw their interests aligned with the right-wing and simultaneously, the right-wing hit a bargain in collaborating with the influencers as a way to reach a wider audience.
With influencers amplifying the #BoycottMadeInChina, the clarion call of Mr Sonam Wangchuk of the SECMOL and ice stupa fame, the masses ought to analyse, critically even, the reasons stated, the underlying intent, and the consequences of such abrasive calls.
With the new turn of events, a large chunk of the population — with no qualms of any sort in boycotting Chinese goods (looking beyond TikTok for a fair analysis) on grounds of the fascist Chinese government eroding the rights of its citizens — took to update a black poster with #BlackLivesMatter, #AllLivesMatter and#ICantBreathe for protesters in the USA fighting against a racist society, and a vocally racist one at that.
The same support for a boycott movement has not been extended to the citizens of the USA who is, in fact, India’s ‘natural ally’ (as quoted by diplomats) with no aggression on Indian borders. It leaves one with a question mark on whether the values of life in China and the USA differ, and if so, what are the evaluations that the promoters of #BoycottMadeInChina turned to before drawing such conclusions?
While these gestures have been extended to the marginalised and exploited citizens in the USA and China, have Indians, who have been marginalised, victims of lynching, police brutality, racism, casteism, the migrant labourers, farmers and the LGBTQ+ group been stripped off their citizenship status? Because let alone a boycott call or a social media update, their plight has met with a deafening silence from these quarters of public figures.
Accepting the limitation that one cannot be expected to raise their concern on every issue, however, this cannot and should not be used a shield to defend a silence, laced with hypocrisy, on violations and fascism in our own backyards. Even at the risk of sounding crass, it is important for masses to call out and hold responsible the lack of knowledge on credible news, intellectual arguments and a humanitarian stand, against that of packaged and marketed self-interest that looks like a shallow and incomplete propaganda.
With growing international mistrust and hostilities, the speculated return of a cold war sans bipolarity, any policy approach with consequential economic isolation greatly increases the risk of conflicts (Dell Theory of Conflict Resolution). Such policy approach further goes on to aggravate the cold war characteristics, as not only is India actively involved in a stand-off against China, it is also strategically aligned with the US wherein the deteriorating US-China relations have been public knowledge for a while now.
Thus, boycotting Chinese goods might do more harm than good as it carries a risk of a high degree of pushing China to act more aggressively. Unfortunate as the confrontation was, beyond social media algorithms and shallow interests, upon the application of Kautilya’s Mandala theory, it primarily lacks shock value for the simple reason that both the McMahon line and Line of Actual Control are largely un-demarcated and remain disputed. Hence, confrontation between India and China is not unusual and will continue to remain so till such time that the border dispute is negotiated and settled.
With most, if not all, media reports quoting some those called the skirmish an unprovoked act of aggression on part of China, it becomes ever so crucial to note fresh Indian claims over Gilgit-Baltistan (POK) a week prior to the skirmish. Noteworthy, this does not go to justify the act of aggression, but rather is the key to understand the viewpoint of China. China is heavily invested in infrastructure development in Gilgit Baltistan, and the region is absolutely indispensable to China’s plans towards energy security and trade promotion.
Under the Belt and Road Initiative and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, China seeks to increase the flow of fuel from the Strait of Hormuz, the Arabian Sea through Gwadar, Gilgit, and eventually to Kashgar, and vice-versa for goods from China to Central Asia and the Middle East through the byzantine network of road, rail and gas pipelines. In this context, any Indian claim on Gilgit Baltistan challenging the existing status quo of the region under Pakistan, crucial to China’s return on investment, is probably perceived as a threat by China.
The right-wing call for a boycott argument that the balance of power is heavily in favor of China completely undermines Indian counter-balance of the BOP. Quite effectively with its Quad, India, along with Japan, Australia, and the USA, largely strategic in nature, surrounds most countries with Chinese investments, South China Sea and China in International waters entirely. None of this is new. Some may be young, others more mature, but none with an origin in the pandemic posing an immediate trigger.
The narrow narrative of a #BoycottMadeinChina promotes hostility between the two nations and its people at best, and may culminate into a war at worst. An idealist and realist may argue upon different underlying reasons, but both will agree that a WWIII is unlikely. It will not harm to bear in mind that the capitalist system that we live in today was built on the premise of violence, which has survived and grown upon it and will still seek to find profit in the violence of war, if and when it does break out. Utmost responsibility is a key precaution.
The stand-off, as well as the un-demarcated border, should be resolved through negotiations for a better chance at long-lasting peace and harmony.