As Indian soldiers face the Chinese army in Ladhak. Their courage in defending our borders makes our heart both heavy and proud. However, as citizens, our action’s believe our feelings. India’s trade deficit with China is $48.5 Billion, on the back of China’s near-complete domination of India’s consumer electronic market. The resulting economic upside is significant enough to fund China’s military expenditure on the Indian border. In this context, the decision by the Indian government to initiate the Chinese app ban 59 Chinese apps including TikTok and We Chat. Can be a significant statement of intent. Section 69A of the Information Technology allows the government to block access to any content on the internet. Only if the production of Indian sovereignty requires such blocking.
While any direct connections between companies that own the blocked apps and the Chinese government are difficult to detect. By the virtue of China’s national intelligence law. Every technology company in the country is under the legal obligation to “assist and cooperate with state intelligence”. Further, according to China’s cybersecurity law, all companies “must accept supervision from the government”. When that government wages war on India’s borders, a strong case exists to follow due procedure and block these.
Some might say that TikTok feeding videos of Indian’s copying to Bollywood music to the Chinese government is hardly bad to our sovereignty.
That would be missing the point. As a company, TikTok’s owner Bytedance has a history kowtowing to the deep state in Beijing. Specifically, it has removed content at will, particularly messages about Tiananmen Square and Tibetan independence, according to guidelines leaked to the Guardian newspaper in 2019. In this way, it exercises formidable power in shaping the views of individuals.
In this cyber dark war
Unlike the Galwan attack, India’s sovereignty is questioned daily. To chat, we use Whatsapp, an American app. To make video calls we use Zoom, an American company owned by a Chinese origin American. Even to block the 59 Chinese app Ban, the Indian governments reliant on Google and Apple. To take these apps of the Play Store and App Store respectively. Had there not been the tacit support of the US government in this action, scarcely would the ban would have been so effective so quickly.
It is imperative to recognize that cyberspace is like Galwan valley at scale. To recover lost digital territory putting shadow foreign apps under strict scrutiny is only an opening salvo. To meaningfully assert our sovereignty, there needs to be a constructive focus on select areas that launch India to global technology leadership. India must urgently start three missions to embark on its journey for self-reliance in solar and battery energy, consumer electronics, and AI. Indigenization of these sectors with world-beating quality and price will be the only way to reduce our trade deficit with China and match its military might.
Take the example of solar and battery
Which is now sufficiently low cost to match oil and coal. Our market size makes it possible for India to be best in the world by first by licensing, buying leading tech, which industrial houses will then use to add multiple gigawatts/ year of capacity. Large indigenous R&D will follow, catapulting India to an energy exporter. This blueprint of transforming expenditure into capacity, capacity into R&D, and R&D into global leadership can be repeated in any area India wants to establish Atmanirbhar. It starts with energy self-reliance.
Again, the heart of consumer electronics, be it smartphones or televisions, is the central processor. Often called Soc (system on a chip)). India has some of the finest SoC designers in the world. An Atmanirbhr Grand challenge to create best in class Socs for Indian smartphones with unique innovations is urgently needed. It will, within 2 years, yield 2-3 winners who can then be married to Indian electronic companies to build global quality Indian smartphones for markets in India and abroad.
The other area is AI
One of the inventors of AI, Turing award winner Raaj Reddy. Always meant AI to bring parity to all 7 billion of us. This will be India’s contribution to technology. AI that serves India’s civilization ethos of inclusion. Nowhere is this need more urgent than in medicine.
Indian innovators are already making Biobots automate retinal scanning, mammography, and ECG interpretation, some of which have matched certified professional competence. Governments need to put in place the right laws to rapidly certify and ensure public hospitals adopt them. If data generated from these processes remain in India and is made only available to Indian Innovators, this has the potential to solve the large medical problems of the Global South.
Ultimately, in technology as in the economy, we need to learn from our soldiers on the front. We need to steel ourselves for a few years of hardship with knowledge and belief that we will overcome. If we don’t, our dream of a tech sovereign India will become like a TikTok video- short-lived and illusory. If we do, perhaps our foes may never dare to draw battle lines inside our physical territory.
With Chinese App Ban, we could be self-reliant and can work more effectively on the overall growth of India.