Indian consumers’ Boycott Chinese Products movement, if it takes off, will touch the third rail of Indo-China diplomatic relations. The Confederation of All India Traders assembled a boycott list of 3,000 Chinese products from bags to toys, though in foresight, such a move could serve a cross purpose. The public sentiment was already fragile due to the coronavirus and the Chinese attack at the Ladakh border has triggered much resentment.
Clearly, the Chinese failed to honour the wisdom of the written word at the Line of Actual Control and hence Indians want China to get a taste of its own medicine. If one looks back, the Chinese repeatedly boycotted Japanese goods throughout the 1930s in response to the Japanese invasion, and most recently in response to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Island conflict in 2012.
But economist Kilian Heilmann in a paper concluded that past international trade boycotts failed in several dimensions. Be it the 1950s global boycott movement protesting South Africa’s apartheid system, the American boycott of French products during the Iraq War, or the boycott of Danish goods by Muslim countries, they rarely succeeded. Going by the counsel of the commentariat, there’s a ghost of a chance that India’s call will be either effective or useful. It’s evident that the Chinese attacked ‘accidentally on purpose’ and the collective public anger giving rise to the boycott chorus is an attempt to punish the export-dependent China, curbing trade as our northern neighbour accounts for 14% of total imports.
But the boycott call can succeed when hell freezes over, which is never. For one, Chinese exporters can redirect products to other countries. Two, Indians could lose economic gains. Moreover, almost every country sources from China, so it’ll be difficult to segregate imports from other countries. That said, there’s an urgent need to reduce export-import imbalance, particularly in essential sectors like pharmaceuticals, which gets 60% raw material from China. So even as we roll with the punches, the government should identify and incentivise such production with godspeed.