There’s a certain amount of hysteria that creeps into the voices of the most rational of Indians when discussing China. Born of the kind of irrational fear and suspicion that befits Nayland Smith—for the benefit of the uninitiated, a nephew of Sherlock Holmes who fought a villainous Chinese criminal called Fu Manchu—and not a policymaker or company executive, this causes people to rail against China and all things Chinese.
To be sure, the Chinese aren’t entirely innocent. They sometimes lend their companies capital at impossibly low rates; there have been enough proven instances of the Chinese dumping products into a market, a move that is usually accompanied by the demise of the local industry making the same products as well as imports from other countries; and, in the case of heavy machinery and expensive equipment, they aren’t above asking one of their banks to extend the buyer credit at a favourable rate.
Many Indians haven’t forgotten the events of 1962 either, when they feel India was treacherously and suddenly attacked by China.
The recent move by India to regulate, even bar, the import of Chinese telecom equipment needs to be seen in this light. If equipment made by some Chinese companies is being banned because these firms have links with the Chinese establishment and have somehow provided that country’s intelligence services with a back door—technology makes this possible—through which they can listen in on conversations, then this newspaper is all for the ban. As long as we are sure that this is happening.
However, it is also likely that some of these so-called “security concerns” are being fanned by other foreign telecom firms that are at the receiving end of Chinese imports. Given our predisposition to suspect the Chinese, it is easy for lobbyists to present a corporate or trade dispute as a matter of national security.
India would do well to guard against this. After all, unlike in the case of power equipment, it has no indigenous telecom equipment industry—at least, not one of any significance—to protect, although it would do well to force foreign firms to set up factories here. And the cheap Chinese imports have allowed companies to embark on a tariff war that has eventually benefited the customer. India’s decision on Chinese telecom equipment should be guided by self-interest.
Do telecom equipment imports from China pose a security threat to India? Tell us at email@example.com