India Bans TikTok… Again

Other Chinese apps including WeChat also blocked

This is a development that could indicate larger geopolitical developments to come.

On Monday, the Indian government banned as many as 59 Chinese apps including TikTok and UC Browser over security concerns. Most of these apps were recently flagged by the country’s intelligence agencies because of concerns that they were collecting user data and possibly also sending it outside the country.

The apps include the wildly popular short-video platform TikTok, Tencent’s social network WeChat, and UC Browser, which was developed by a company owned by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Indian authorities also blacklisted video games such as Clash of Kings and Mobile Legends, as well as e-commerce services Club Factory and Shein.

This is a significant move that will affect millions of users. Together with other apps, TikTok, Club Factory and UC Browser had more than 500 million monthly active users in May 2020. TikTok has amassed more than 200 million users in India and its parent company ByteDance had expected it to cross the 300 million mark by the end of the year.

The decision by the Indian government is expected to have a huge impact on Chinese companies, many of which count India as their biggest or second-largest market. This may be the first time that the government has downright blocked Chinese apps; previously, it had stopped short by releasing advisories for the public to be wary of them.

The ban on TikTok is particularly significant because in May 2019 India shut down the app for two weeks, after a court ruled that it could be detrimental for children. However, on an appeal by TikTok the court reversed its ruling. Others have recently raised security concerns about TikTok, but not about such a long list of other apps.

Chinese investors like Tencent and Alibaba have poured tens of billions of dollars into Indian start-ups over the past five years, with the likes of Bigbasket, Byju’s, Ola, Oyo, Paytm and Zomato counting Chinese companies as major backers. In a matter of days all the hard work of the past decade is coming to naught. To many, the Indian government’s move appears to be a protectionist decision that it will create room for home-grown apps to flourish.

The ban comes amid the ongoing stand-off along the disputed border between China and India, after 20 Indian soldiers were killed and several others badly injured in a face-off with Chinese troops in Ladakh in June 2020.

Anti-China moves have been gaining ground in India in recent weeks, where calls to boycott Chinese goods have emerged. In a sign of national sentiment, some people have expressed their resentment of Chinese products, posting videos in which they’re shown destroying Chinese-made smartphones, TVs and other products. China will need to mend fences quickly if it’s to avoid disrupting the global ambitions of its business champions.