In the past, boycotting China has not only been called for because of Chinese military aggression towards its neighbors but also because of its human rights violations of its own citizens. Open firing at peaceful protestors in Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government has even been accused of illegally harvesting organs from Falun Gong (religious movement practitioner) and other political prisoners. This led to activists around the world calling for a boycott of Chinese products.
Sonam Wangchuk (whose role was popularly played by Amir Khan in 3 Idiots movie) has claimed that the aggression from China is only a means for the ruling communist party to divert the attention of the people away from its internal problems.
A Trade where Chinese products and services are bought by Indian consumers to finance aggression by the Chinese troops not only on its own citizens but also towards Indian soldiers is as far as it gets from being fair.
Have boycott movements been successful?
There have been various boycott movements throughout history. The US consumer forum tried to boycott French goods in 2003 in protest of France dissuading attacks on Iran. India too has had similar Boycott China movements in the past. #BoycottChina was trending in 2016 too after China supported Pakistan post the URI attacks.
Another important factor why the Indian Boycott China movement does not follow up with greater action is economics. When a consumer goes to buy a product he would find that Chinese products are not only cheaper but also of superior quality in comparison to their Indian counterparts. In such a situation a choice made to purchase a product which is expensive and at the same time of inferior quality in comparison to the Chinese is only self-destructive.
Why an immediate boycott of China doesn’t make sense?
Trade Deficit occurs when the country’s imports are more than its exports. One of the major consequences of a large trade deficit is the weakening of one’s currency. This is precisely the case with India. In the years 2018-2019, the imports from China were at 70,319.64 Million. During the same period, the exports to China stood at 16,752.20 Million leading to a deficit of 53,567.44 Million.
But India is not the only country that has suffered this fate when dealing with China. Numerous countries around the world have faced this resulting in China becoming one of the countries with the largest trade surplus.
The trade deficit not only shows the dependence of Indian consumers but also of Indian industries on Chinese exports. Indian market leaders like Bajaj, TVS Motors, Mahindra, and Tata get their parts from China. Even pesticide and fertilizer companies based in India are overtly dependant on China. Take the example of United Phosphorous where over 55% of its products are sourced from China.
Let’s talk about “Aathma Nirbhar”
The Prime Minister in his most recent address has pushed for an Aatma Nirbhar Bharat. Say due to this influence Indians strictly buy only Indian products. If we are to look at the 1947 -1991 environment where due to the protectionist views of the government the consumers were forced to buy only Indian. This led to the producers producing low-quality products.
This was because they were certain of receiving a market share irrespective of the quality. The 1947-91 period ended up doing more harm than good. The same period also saw the Chinese producers preparing their markets for global competition. This gave the Chinese a 40-year head start over their Indian competitors.
What would Adam Smith the father of modern economics say?
Adam Smith speaks about competitive advantage in his book the Wealth of Nations published in the year 1776. He takes the example of two countries England and Portugal and also of two products, wine, and cloth. Here, Portuguese are the best in producing wine and England in producing cloth. According to Adam Smith, Portugal should focus on creating wine instead of focussing on both wine and cloth. This would only lead to substandard products. England should focus on cloth and both countries should reduce the scarcity of cloth or wine respectively through trade.
Let us take the example of TVS Motors. They are known for producing good two-wheelers in the mid and low-priced segments. An attempt to produce the two-wheeler 100% in India would only result in more expensive vehicles of poorer quality. Hence TVS Motors taking materials manufactured in China that are of high quality and lower cost has resulted in them suiting the Indian markets today. We may be ready to purchase the more expensive Indian alternative if available in the future.
Our current situation
But if we are still are not convinced and before we decide conclusively let us take a moment and come out of our privileged shells. The recent pandemic has shed light on the poverty plights of our nation. The first relief package of Rs. 1.7 lakh crore aimed at feeding 800 million poor people. The increased price alternatives would only shove two-thirds of a section further down the wealth ladder.