China finally had to admit that both Indian and Chinese troops had suffered loss of lives in the skirmishes between the two sides on the night of 15 Jun in the Galwan valley in eastern Ladakh. While India had admitted quite early that 20 soldiers had attained martyrdom including Commanding Officer Colonel Santosh Babu, China had to admit the truth at least partially later to avert the situation of another confrontation. At least that is the explanation given by Chinese Communist Party organ 'Global Times'. Although the hint in this is that China does not want another clash or hostilities, it cannot be assumed that India will take it at its face value. Given that China has staked claim on the border region and encroached on it - with large scale military mobilisation too - naturally India cannot afford to skip making preparations to face any provocation. Any such restraint would only weaken the morale of our defence forces and the people. For the same reason, reports coming in say that both Indian army and airfoce are alike busily engaged in border protection efforts with modern equipment. All the same, there are also indications that diplomatic moves are afoot from both sides not to repeat 1962 and to avoid war. The need of the hour indeed is peace moves without sacrificing self-respect and security.
In parallel, there are calls and moves on the Indian side to cancel contracts with Chinese companies and to boycott Chinese products. The latest development in this regard is Maharashtra government's freezing – after consultation with the central government – of Chinese investment projects worth Rs 5,000 crore based on a deal signed barely a week ago as part of the Magnetic Maharashtra 2.0 scheme. Another project frozen by Maharashtra government is the Rs 3,770 Crore vehicle manufacturing unit of Chinese firm Great Wall Motors. Before the Maharashtra actions, there was the decision of Indian Railways to cancel the installation of signal system along the 400 kilometer long goods transport corridor along the eastern region, that was awarded to Bejing National Railway and Design Institute for Rs 500 Crore. Alongside these come the vociferous calls from certain quarters to boycott Chinese products which flood the Indian market. India imports at least seven times the size of India's exports to China. If in the year 2018-19 India exported Indian goods worth USD 16.7 billion, imports from China were worth USD 70.3 billion. It was to reduce this trade deficit of USD 53.6 billion that India had decided to intervene in 371 Chinese products in early 2020. That however could not materialise. The import controls were expected to affect sectors of pharmaceuticals, electronics, machinery, mobile phone, organic chemicals, solar energy, plastics and toys. In the changed circumstances, India may decide to focus on implementing those decisions. It is significant that in a recent survey conducted amidst the calls to boycott Chinese goods, 87 per cent responded in favour.
However, aside from an emotionally charged atmosphere, questions have been raised from trade, finance and industrial quarters about how practical the moves for banning Chinese companies, import controls and imposing higher import tariffs, would be. One fact is that with China's imports to India amounting to a mere 2 per cent, even if the boycott is successful, it will not hit China decisively. More critical is the fact that currently it is almost impossible to make products cheaper than Chinese products available in Indian markets. With Chinese products, of high or low quality, having captured a major chunk of the markets, the boycott by our traders and consumers is bound to invite major hardships. Although such boycotts have happened many times in history, experience tells us that all of them had flopped. Cases of China which boycotted Japanese products during the 1930s, American consumer forums that decided to boycott French products in 2003 and Arab countries who boycotted US products because of the US support of Israel, all ended up drawing a blank. At best, product boycotts would only succeed in exerting temporary pressures. This is not to say India should sit quiet. The government has to take every measure to ensure production of items that can compete with Chinese products in quality. This necessitates effective steps, without stopping with loud calls of, or making people call, the slogan of 'Make in India'. The unique human resource pool of India has to be harnessed in line with this target, the watchword in every field being self-sufficiency. The slackness and corruption which creates hindrance for such drives, and the waste of time on emotional issues, as also the obstinacy in neighbourly relations, should all be ended.