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10 Jul 2020 2:42
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  •   Home > News > International

    Amid a dispute on the border, India's celebrities are promoting a boycott of China-made products

    Several Indian celebrities speak out in support of boycotting China-made products and sponsorships amid growing anti-Chinese sentiment in the country. Here's how it all started.

    Indian model and actress Sakshi Agarwal uses social media to champion a healthy lifestyle, but in the past week her various accounts have taken on a political tone.

    She's started to encourage fans to boycott China-made products.

    As anger boiled following a deadly brawl between Indian and Chinese troops, the 29-year-old announced she was deleting Chinese video-sharing social media app TikTok and vowed to boycott endorsements for Chinese companies or buy their products.

    "India is a very peaceful country and what happened at the Galwan Valley really upset me," Ms Agarwal told the ABC.

    "For the first time in my life, I've taken a political stand on social media."

    Agarwal became a household name in south India after appearing on the Tamil reality television show, Bigg Boss Tamil, and is now a star of south Indian film industries, known as Mollywood and Kollywood.

    She's one of several celebrities who have made declarations in support of boycotting China-made products and sponsorships.

    Others have included former international cricketer Harbhajan Singh, television actresses Kamya Punjabi and Shubhangi Atre, and model Milind Soman.

    Agarwal lost more than 200,000 followers when she deleted TikTok, but she said it was an important first step to encourage others to step away from China-made products in favour of Indian ones.

    "It was a very important app for me, once upon a time," she said.

    "You get to do a lot of things in terms of connecting with your fans — posting workout videos, dance videos — but it doesn't seem important anymore.

    "We have Indian alternatives. My patriotism just takes over."

    The idea behind the boycott China movement

    Anti-Chinese sentiment has been building in India for months, if not years, fuelled in part by a concern that Indian businesses have been severely outcompeted by cheap Chinese imports.

    But the movement ramped up after tensions along the disputed border exploded in a deadly hand-to-hand fight on June 15, which resulted in the killing of 20 Indian soldiers and an estimated 40 Chinese deaths, according to Indian media.

    It was the first outbreak of deadly violence along the hotly contested Himalayan border since 1976.

    In the days before the deadly violence, engineer Sonam Wangchuk — who lives in the border region of Ladakh — uploaded a video to YouTube urging Indians to boycott Chinese products, which he said were bolstering a "totalitarian regime".

    He argued it was important to push for change "with wallets rather than bullets".

    "There's nothing we have against the people of China, the civilisation of China, or even the goods and products of China," Mr Wangchuk told the ABC.

    "It's the regime that we enrich and empower by buying these goods."

    A Hindi version of the video has since racked up more than four million views, while the English version intended for an international audience has around one and a half million views.

    "If we only respond militarily … it will unite their people with this regime," Mr Wangchuk said.

    "But if we respond economically it will awaken the people, and that is what the Chinese regime fears the most: its own people."

    More recently, however, Mr Wangchuk has become concerned that the Boycott China movement has evolved into something more hostile than he intended.

    People have started burning effigies of Chinese President Xi Jinping and smashing Chinese-made goods like smartphones and televisions.

    "It became too much, too intense and emotional with people throwing their televisions, burning gadgets," he said.

    "That's never something I meant."

    Movement grows against a backdrop of unrest over border issues

    Tension between Indian and Chinese forces had been building for more than a month, with reports of rock throwing as patrol units from each country came into contact.

    Last week's deadly violence reportedly erupted after Indian soldiers tried to dismantle a Chinese tent that overlooked Indian positions.

    Details of a brutal fight that lasted hours have been leaked to Indian media, including the use of metal bars and reports of soldiers being thrown off steep ravines.

    China has kept its version of events much more closely guarded.

    Each government blames the other. Beijing has accused Indian troops of aggression, while Delhi has accused China of making new assertions of sovereignty over the disputed lands.

    Senior military leaders have since been in de-escalation talks, but new satellite pictures show both sides are building up their forces on each side of the boundary, known as the Line of Actual Control.

    Shiv Aroor, a senior editor of the news station India Today who has reported on the border dispute extensively, said the situation remained extremely tense.

    "It's a serious issue and anyone trying to play it down is not telling you the real story," he told the ABC.

    Aroor said India was "finally" responding to an aggressive build-up that had taken place on the Chinese side.

    "The very trigger point for this entire situation, I imagine, has been that India has taken the initiative to catch up on the precise issue of infrastructure," he said.

    "India's infrastructure is no longer ad-hoc, it's no longer tentative, it's no longer stop and go, there's been a relentless political effort to continue and finish infrastructure projects."

    Government faces a difficult situation as it seeks to maintain trade

    The Indian Government is under more pressure than ever to punish China economically.

    Chinese telecommunications companies, such as Huawei, are increasingly expected to be banned from taking part in critical infrastructure projects.

    Already, a Chinese company building signals for a 417-kilometre stretch of railway has had its contract torn up despite the job being only 20 per cent done.

    But National University of Singapore economics professor Amitendu Palit said India's economy is heavily dependent on China — including refined iron, steel products and other basic materials needed for production.

    "India's reliance on China is very high," Professor Palit said.

    "India is the largest generic manufacturing [country] in the world and the reliance on China is very high in this regard for supply of active pharmaceutical ingredients.

    "If it resorts to tariff actions, what's going to happen is it's going to make a large number of essential imports expensive — that would financially impact a large number of enterprises in India."

    But Professor Palit said the dependence is not one-sided, with China relying on India's huge population as a lucrative market for its goods.

    "If someone looks at consumer goods in India, across the middle and high range products like smartphones and LED television, a very large amount of these products are being imported from China," he said.

    Mr Wangchuk admits India has a long way to go before it can be economically distant from China, but said it be achieved through incremental stages.

    "We should be cool-headed," he said.

    "[Boycott] software in a week —this is easiest. Hardware in a year. And mixed products with raw material and parts from China, give them two-years.

    "In two-years, I believe a new ecosystem will develop. Customers will respond. Customer is the king."

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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