SINGAPORE (IDN) - Government statistics show that in this affluent Southeast Asian nation, one in three workers are migrants.  They build the modern infrastructure, clean the buildings, cook and serve in restaurants, look after the children and elderly at home, while often being paid very poorly and treated shabbily and looked at suspiciously by the locals.

Beginning with the 2013 Little India riots where hundreds of Indian workers attacked police vehicles to the recent arrest of 27 Bangladeshi workers suspected of having links to Islamic terrorist groups, there has been much tension in the community with regards to migrant workers. As one law student put it: “We only find out about migrant workers through second hand sources which does not really say who they are.”

- Photo: 2020

Cultural Wisdom Might Help Resolve India-China Conflict

By Kalinga Seneviratne

This article is the 42nd in a series of joint productions of Lotus News Features and IDN-InDepthNews, the flagship of the International Press Syndicate. Click here for previous reports.

SINGAPORE (IDN) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a special address given on Asadha Poornima day on July 4 marking the anniversary of Gautama Buddha’s first sermon said Buddhism teaches respect for people, and respect for peace and nonviolence.

“(In his sermon at Sarnath) Lord Buddha spoke on two things – Hope and purpose. He saw a strong link between them,” he said in an address given on a webcast by the Delhi-based International Buddhist Confederation. “From Hope comes a spirit of purpose. For Lord Buddha, it was the removal of human suffering; We have to rise to the occasion and do whatever we can to increase Hope among people.”

Since Modi came to power in India and Xi Jinping in China, both governments have tried to use what the former calls the ‘IndicBuddhist civilisation of Asia’ as a rallying point to promote better understanding between the two Asian giants. Both countries could draw upon almost 2000 years of common history to develop mutual trust at a time when people in both countries seem to have a high degree of mistrust of each other.

Since the advent of COVID-19, some sections of the influential Indian media have been trying to label the virus as a Chinese virus, echoing similar to the U.S. and Australia. This has been further fuelled by the clashes on the India-China border in June where 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese counterparts have died. Since then, there has been a nationalist uproar in India fuelled by the media against China.

An uneasy sense of mutual trust and cooperation Modi and Xi have been trying to build since 2017 using their common cultural bonds have come unstuck today. Media in both countries have traded barbs, while the two governments have been attempting to play down the seriousness of the clash.

Modi government, however, has been forced to concede ground to rising nationalist sentiments in India moving to ban Chinese apps popular in India and also restricting access to Chinese companies in the telecommunication and infrastructure building fields. The Indian government is also looking at trade restrictions on cheap Chinese imports to India.

Following the June 29 ban on 59 Chinese apps for mobile phones on July 1, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari said that Chinese companies would not be allowed to take part in road projects. Chinese companies are also involved in 5G trials, and India could move to ban Huawei from operating in India, something the U.S. has been pressuring countries to do. These moves could potentially cost Chinese companies billions of dollars in contracts and future earnings.

Interestingly, the Chinese response echoes the U.S. free trade rhetoric of the  1990s. China’s Foreign Ministry is calling for a review of these trade restrictions said that these actions go against “the general trend of international trade and E-commerce and is not conducive to consumer interests and the market competition in India”.

Trade between India and China is currently highly slanted towards China. According to data from India’s Commerce Ministry, India’s bilateral trade with China was worth nearly $80 billion in 2019. China is India’s largest trading partner, but the latter runs a large trade deficit. While Chinese imports are about 16% of India’s total, China’s imports from India is just 3.2%.

But China has high stakes in India’s technology sector already having invested an estimated $4 billion. Chinese firms have invested considerable sums in some of the country’s most iconic tech brands, such as the popular ride-hailing service Ola, a fintech company Paytm, food-delivery app Zomato and E-commerce platform Flipkart.

It may seem as if the chips are all in China’s favour and that China is less dependent on India’s market than India is on Chinese imports. But India’s lever is its vast potential market with a young population that is eager to embrace new technology. This is the market Chinese tech giants such as Huawei is eyeing.

Chinese application Tik Tok has shown how the Indian market could be ripped open in a very short space of time. India is its biggest overseas market, with an estimated 600 million downloads and growing rapidly. Its parent company ByteDance had a modest earning of $5.8 million in the first year 2018-2019, but they have told the Chinese Finance magazine Caixin that they expect a loss of more than $6 billion (from potential earnings) this year because of the ban.

“Chinese technology companies are betting big on India’s rising technology scene, so reducing their influence will be difficult. Their support for Indian start-ups has brought money, cutting-edge technologies and experience in scaling up businesses noted Global Times (GT), China’s Communist Party mouthpiece. “These apps have provided great convenience to the lives and economic activities of Indian people.”

Zhou Rong, a senior research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at the Renmin University of China, was quoted by GT as saying that the Indian government “has not explained in detail how the Chinese apps are threatening the security of India”. It also pointed out, “although India has much talented technical staff, many choose to work in Silicon Valley, causing a domestic shortage”. Thus, Zhou argued, “unless India has the capital to support the development of domestic start-ups and talent, it would be impossible to oust Chinese companies”. 

This may be overstated, as India’s Republic TV reported on July 5 that over 1000 young IT professionals in India had pooled their talents to design India’s own super social media app Elyments. Designed within a few months, the app has just been launched in eight Indian languages and, according to the report, “nation’s top privacy experts have worked on the app to ensure that all data regarding the users will be stored in India and will not be shared with any third party without the user’s explicit consent”.

While Chinese media such as GT has criticised, India’s move to impose economic sanctions as “irrational policy move” to address a political issue, China itself has done that in recent years against other nations.

As India’s Hindu newspaper pointed out, China’s State media spearheaded a boycott of South Korean goods in 2016 and 2017, when Seoul deployed the U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system. China then placed curbs on outbound tourism to South Korea, costing the country millions of dollars in tourism revenue.

When a dispute emerged with the Philippines, over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea in 2012, China curbed imports on bananas and restricted Chinese tourists going there, costing the country millions of dollars in revenue.

Just last month, unhappy with Australia’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of coronavirus, China imposed high tariffs on Australian barley imports and curbed meat imports as well. China has threatened to impose sanctions on Australian wine imports, and Chinese students and tourists going to Australia, which would cost Australia billions of dollars in foreign exchange revenue.

Analysts have pointed out that if China retaliates for Indian economic sanctions with some of their own, India’s role as the pharmacy of the world, providing cheap medicines to countries far and wide, could be threatened. According to Pharmexcil, this sector was worth $40 billion in revenue in 2018-19 for the Indian economy.

Dr Rory Horner, a senior lecturer at the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester, writing in the Indian Express newspaper, warned that the growing clamour in India to boycott trade with China would have a devastating impact on the Indian pharmaceutical industry.

“Trade boycotts or bans are especially costly when production is organised through global supply chains, as is the case with the pharmaceutical industry. Although India is the third-largest producer of finished drugs in the world, it relies significantly on China for supplies of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), the key components in making medicines. An estimated 70 per cent of API requirements of India’s pharmaceutical industry are sourced from China,” he explained.

“In India, any decoupling from China must be strategic, with significant policy support, and it will take time for a paced indigenisation,” argues Horner.

To defuse a potentially explosive situation in Asia, both Modi and Xi may have to draw on Buddha’s wisdom of having Hope and purpose to find a solution to a long drawn out problem of demarcation of national boundaries in the Himalayas, which is dotted with Buddhist communities on both sides. [IDN-InDepthNews – 06 July 2020]

Photo: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the Indian troops during his visit to the forward post at Nimu in Ladakh, Friday, July 3, 2020. Credit: PIB/PTI

IDN is flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group, practising Global Journalism.

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