India Can Snub Pakistani Actors And Singers But Can It Tame China, The Dragon Next Door?

The call for boycott of Pakistan makes more logical sense than a call for boycott of China.

05/10/2016 4:01 PM IST | Updated 05/10/2016 4:30 PM IST
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Pakistan Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz (L) shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing on April 27, 2016. IORI SAGISAWA/AFP/Getty Images

Madhu Kishwar has a point. "Pak impotent without China backing," she tweets. "Arnab shd start call 4 mass boycott of China goods instead of limiting to soft target Pak artists @TimesNow."

It's not without logic. China has gone out of its way over and over again to save Pakistan's butt, especially in the international arena. As India threatened to review the Indus Waters treaty with Pakistan, China has blocked the Xiabuqu/Yarlung Zambo tributary of the Brahmaputra in connection with its hydropower projects in Tibet. The two events are unrelated, and the hydro projects long in the works, the Chinese will claim, but the timing smacks of tit for tat.

China also extended its technical hold on Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar for another three months in the UN Security Council. The resolution to ban Azhar was co-sponsored by India, US, UK and France. Only China has blocked it asking India to "talk directly" to Pakistan.

China's official response to the Uri attacks has been polite restraint. It has said it's "shocked" by the attack and asked for relevant parties "to have dialogue and consultation". But the Azhar hold has also been a signal to reassure Pakistan, the kind of reassurance Nawaz Sharif did not get from Washington when he went there after the Uri attacks. According to Dawn, China's consul general in Lahore Yu Boren was quoted as saying, "In case of any foreign aggression, our country will extend its full support to Pakistan."

The reasons are not just playing Pakistan off India. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is of vital interest to China. That is, according to a former Indian ambassador to China, quoted by NDTV, the reason for "increasing strategic value that Pakistan has for China, even beyond being a proxy against India."

NDTV reports that Pakistani press estimates that the money spent on CPEC infrastructure is between $46 billion to $51 billion. That kind of money (and the power associated with it) talks much louder than any display of Modi-Xi Jingping bhai-bhai in Ahmedabad. Modi had described his rapport with the Chinese leader as "plus one", but for Beijing, Islamabad is like a popular Chinese smartphone, one plus one. "India and China can do it better," says the hero of Chandni Chowk to China (CC2C), Bollywood's first kung-fu caper with Akshay Kumar. Now there's a great wall between the two.

We can snub Pakistan via its actors and singers but who wants to tame the dragon next door?

Of course, we could argue that despite its behind-the-scenes support, ultimately the Kashmir attack came from Pakistan, not the Chinese. Thus the call for boycott of Pakistan makes more logical sense than a call for boycott of China.

But Kishwar also makes a larger point and a more pertinent one in this current season of Fawad-bashing, among other things. The likes of Fawad Khan are soft targets. While some will miss his good looks and Karan Johar might want to cast him in a film, Bollywood will not fall apart without Fawad Khan or Mahira Khan. There's not that much we can think of that we import from Pakistan and thus it's easy to call for a boycott of "not much" and feel puffed up with patriotic pride as a perk.

China, however, is a different ballgame altogether. If we genuinely went for a mass populist movement to boycott Chinese-made goods, our daily lives would unravel, starting with those smartphones with which we are calling for the boycott in the first place on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.

China is India's largest trading partner and it's a lopsided relationship. As trade has grown, so has the trade deficit with China. CNBC reported this year that in the financial year that ended in March, India exported $9 billion worth of goods to China, much of it raw materials like copper and cotton, and imported goods worth $61.7 billion.

Much of what comes back are consumer products which makes #Boycott-Chinese_Items a much trickier proposition. Even our film stars will be affected. China allows only some 34 foreign films to be released in their country every year, but some of those are big Bollywood blockbusters and films by Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan have earned millions of dollars in recent years, says CNBC.

#BoycottPakOrNot sounds like a war cry we can get behind without too much inconvenience (unless you are addicted to Shan meat masala or Pakistani teleserials). But #Boycott_Chinese_Items this Diwali would definitely make it a less bright Diwali. We might be made in India, but our daily lifestyle is pretty much Made in China. We can snub Pakistan via its actors and singers but who wants to tame the dragon next door?

But it also points to the futility of feel-good boycotts in an interconnected world. Robyn Meredith, author of The Elephant and the Dragon: The Rise of India and China And What it Means for All of Us, said, "A company in Hyderabad developed the brains of the iPod. But it's actually made in China by Taiwanese sub-suppliers." Thus, in our zeal to boycott in order to teach someone a lesson, who would we be really hurting anyway?

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