As New Delhi and Beijing grapple with a border dispute, an upsurge of nationalism in India has sparked a backlash against China, with calls made to boycott Chinese apps and other products.

Tensions between India and China spiked along their undelineated border after skirmishes last month between soldiers in the union territory of Ladakh and state of Sikkim led to a build-up of troops on both sides.

Some Indian media reports have put troop numbers at 5,000 on both sides.

The anti-China rhetoric is, for now, confined to social media, with the New Delhi leadership refraining from any direct criticism of Beijing. But analysts said the backlash could deepen if the row intensifies.

An online campaign to boycott Chinese goods and technology with the hashtag #BoycottChineseProducts has been trending on Twitter, with at least one famous personality, Milind Soman, a model and producer, announcing that he has quit TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing social networking service.

Also, an application called Remove China Apps, created by Indian start-up OneTouch AppLabs, has gone viral.

The Android smartphone app is aimed at removing apps made by Chinese companies. It lists TikTok and CamScanner among the apps.

It has been downloaded five million times and was the top trending free app in India till Google suspended it from the Play store on Wednesday.

No reasons were given for the removal.

The domestic narrative against China has been strengthened by a widely circulated video of bloodied Indian soldiers tied up on the ground and surrounded by Chinese soldiers. The video has not had any official recognition.

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Calls in India to boycott Chinese goods erupt every time there is a border row or tensions with China.

However, Mr Nitin Pai, director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent centre for research and education in public policy, noted that the calls this time have been “more strident”.

“Every new provocation merely strengthens an already widespread perception that China is not well-disposed towards India, and I have seen nothing from Beijing that addresses this. The cumulative effect can be seen in increasingly popular calls for boycott of Chinese goods and apps,” said Mr Pai.

India and China have a festering border row and bilateral ties nosedived after a border dispute exploded in 2017 over Doklam, an area strategically close to India’s Silliguri Corridor, a narrow stretch of land that connects the country’s north-east to the mainland.

The border stand-off was resolved through diplomacy.

In spite of these tensions, India’s economic ties with China remain strong. China is India’s largest trading partner, and their bilateral trade was worth US$89.7 billion (S$125 billion) in the 2017-2018 financial year.

Chinese cellphones made by companies such as Xiaomi and Oppo, for instance, are particularly popular in India.

“I think people have short-term memories. Once things go back to normal and the conflict is over, it’s all forgotten. People have an attraction to Chinese goods because they are cheap,” noted Dr Rajeshwari Pillai Rajagopalan, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

The two countries have held military and diplomatic talks to resolve the border row. Each has blamed the other of blocking patrols in an area where there is no clear demarcation of where Indian and Chinese territories lie.

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The two sides are set to hold a fresh round of talks today.

“There are differences in both sides’ perceptions of where the frontier runs. And the Chinese soldiers have arrived there in large numbers,” said Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

“India is doing what it needs to do in the circumstances.”





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