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March 15, 2019

Modi govt under pressure ‘Boycott China, Chinese goods’

Top Story

March 15, 2019

NEW DELHI: An influential Hindu nationalist group and an Indian traders body called on Thursday for a boycott of Chinese goods, to slap Beijing for blocking a move to put Pakistani militant leader Masood Azhar on a UN terrorist list following a suicide attack last month.

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), which represents 70 million traders, said it would burn Chinese goods on March 19 to “teach a lesson” to China.

“The time has come when China should suffer due to its proximity with Pakistan,” CAIT said in a statement. “The CAIT has launched a national campaign to boycott Chinese goods among the trading community of the country, calling the traders not to sell or buy Chinese goods.”

The United States, Britain and France asked the Security Council’s Islamic State and al Qaeda sanctions committee to subject the Jaish leader to an arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze. But China a placed a “technical hold” on the proposal, saying it needed more time to consider, using the same stalling tactic it has used in the past.

Mounting impatience with Beijing’s stance was evident on social media on Thursday as #BoycottChineseProducts was the second-highest trending hashtag on Twitter in India. Similar campaigns in the past have proved ineffectual. China is India’s second biggest trading partner.

Chinese products -- from mobile phones made by companies such as Xiaomi Inc to toys -- are ubiquitous in India and trade between the countries grew to nearly $90 billion in the year ending March 2018.

The leader of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, the economic wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist group with close ties to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also called for a boycott of Chinese goods. He also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi recommending that India hit Beijing with higher tariffs.

“Government of India needs to take immediate action to raise tariff duties on all Chinese imports,” Ashwani Mahajan said in the letter, seen by Reuters. India’s trade ministry said in an email the country can’t take any unilateral punitive action against a fellow member of the World Trade Organisation.

A senior government official, who refused to be named as he was not authorised to speak to media, said there has been a move to “restrict” Chinese imports but that India was not in a position to replace products such as electronics

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley warned against any hasty reaction. “It’s a diplomatic issue, and India will take a decision after a careful thought,” Jaitley told CNN-News18. “We’re not a small player on the global stage, but foreign policy issues are tackled in a measured way, not in a knee-jerk manner.”

The issue turned into a full-blown political controversy overnight as the Indian opposition accused Prime Minister Modi of compromising India's interests with his friendly overtures to China. The Congress set the ball rolling Thursday morning, with party chief Rahul Gandhi accusing the prime minister of being "weak" and scared of Xi". The government and the BJP responded promptly, with Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad pointing out that "a country's foreign policy is not determined on Twitter".

"Why is Rahul Gandhi in a celebratory mood when country is pained by China's attitude? He must be headlining in Pakistan," Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Thursday. The minister and his party both pointed out that China would not be in UN Security Council if not for Jawaharlal Nehru, Mr Gandhi's great grandfather and India's first Prime Minister.

Quoting from a book by senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, a former UN official, Mr Prasad said Jawaharlal Nehru had declined the US offer to India for a permanent seat in the Security Council around 1953 and suggested that it be given to China.

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed message seeking comment on the boycott calls. Renu Kohli, an independent economist in New Delhi, doubted whether any boycott would hit critical mass.

“It’s going to fizzle out sooner or later when the consumer realises that their pocket is being hit by costlier domestic products,” said Kohli. Boycott Chinese goods for Masood Azhar? Why this hashtag is a bad idea

Many Indians think boycotting Chinese goods will put pressure on China. Yoga guru Baba Ramdev also called for a ban on Chinese goods in the country.

"Supporters of Masood Azhar, #China and the people of the country, we should boycott them politically, socially and economically. China only knows the language of trade. Financial boycott is stronger than war," he tweeted.

A Twitter user Abhinav said: “Honestly I love the idea. But not the most practical one. I do that really think we are there yet production wise. Most of us will have to throw away the devices we have. Plus many can only offer Chinese product. But I love the sentiment.”

Another Twitter use said: “Those who don't have courage to ask a single question to the Prime Minister about his lacks and failures are promoting ban Chinese product on social media while using themselves the Chinese phones. #BoycottChineseProducts”.

Meanwhile, the US and others are said to be considering a discussion in the 1267 Sanctions Committee on why Azhar's listing as a global terrorist is being opposed time and again by one country alone.

Taking the issue to the Security Council for an open discussion and vote is also an option which could publicly shame the Chinese for their support to the leader of a UN-designated terrorist group.

Indian official sources told their media that the government is looking to seek global scrutiny of the position taken by China which provided no reason on Wednesday for its latest "technical hold" on the proposed ban on Azhar. "An open debate and vote will mean China publicly having to explain its support to an acknowledged terrorist even as other Member States call for his ban," he added.

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