China says India’s app blocking is discriminatory, against international trade

The Chinese embassy in India has called the Indian move to block 59 apps from China as ‘discriminatory’ and ‘against the general trend of international trade and E-commerce’.

India blocked the apps yesterday in response to China ratcheting up its military presence on the Indian border, ostensibly in preparation for an attack on India.

The Indian government said the Chinese apps — which makes it easier for China, according to some experts, to cripple India’s infrastructure in case of a war — posed a security concern, giving the rising tensions.

India said it was taking the step to protect India’s “sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order” without specifically referring to the preparations of war going on at the Indo-Chinese border.

There have also been widespread calls for the government to retaliate against China’s economic interests in India after Chinese soldiers allegedly used crude weapons to kill 20 Indian soldiers more than ten days ago.

“India’s measure, selectively and discriminatorily aims at certain Chinese apps on ambiguous and far-fetched grounds, runs against fair and transparent procedure requirements, abuses national security exceptions, and suspects of violating the WTO rules. It also goes against the general trend of international trade and E-commerce, and is not conducive to consumer interests and the market competition in India,” the Chinese embassy in India said in its statement.

China also called on India to stop discriminating against foreign investors.

“[We] urge the Indian side to change its discriminatory practices, maintain the momentum of China-India economic and trade cooperation, treat all investments and service providers equally, and create an open, fair and just business environment, while bearing in mind the fundamental interests of both sides and the overall interests of bilateral relations.”

Indian strategists argue that India is well within its rights to suspend the operation of Chinese software and apps in India given the possibility that they can be used to launch cyber-attacks against Indian infrastructure such as power networks, transport networks, communications networks and defence networks if tensions between the two countries continue to rise.

China has been increasing its military presence along India’s borders for the last two weeks, and continues to send artillery, jet fighters and other weapons to the front, leading India to suspect that the country may be about to attack India.

Indian intelligence services are also learnt to have alerted the government about a recent law passed in China that forces all Chinese companies to hand over their data if and when demanded by the Chinese government.

China is also known for its closed economy. Despite calling for ‘fair and transparent’ procedures and trade, China blocks most of the world’s biggest tech companies from offering their services in the country, including Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, over security concerns.

In addition to the apps, around 80% of the smartphones sold in India are by Chinese brands such as Xiaomi, OnePlus, Oppo, Vivo and Lenovo.

Most of today’s national systems — whether in defence, transportation, communication, healthcare or energy — are run using computer networks, and cyber attacks — which include the hijacking of hundreds of thousands or even millions of phones and computers and launching simultaneous attacks from them — will play a key role in any Indo-Chinese war.

However, for China, it will be easier to block such attacks from India as they will come from Indian computers and installations.

But experts believe that the presence of over a hundred million smartphones running Chinese software inside India will make it far harder for India to detect and block such an attack.

So far, the Indian government has only addressed part of the problem — in the form of apps. In addition, over a hundred million smartphones run operating systems that are designed, remotely updated and controlled by software engineers in China.

Nevertheless, China urged India to withdraw the restrictions its software installed in India, claiming that blocking the software will put Indians to inconvenience.

“Related apps have a large number of users in India, have been operating strictly in accordance with Indian laws and regulations, and provide efficient and fast services for Indian consumers, creators and entrepreneurs. The ban will affect not only the employment of local Indian workers who support these apps, but also the interests of Indian users and the employment and livelihoods of many creators and entrepreneurs,” the embassy said in its statement.