If you are an Indian, even a short walk through China’s cities will tell you that few people in this country even think of India as an adversary. This is quite unlike Hong Kong where the distaste at the sight of Indians is clearly evident in the demeanour of the Chinese settled there.
For mainland China, India is a neighbor – just one more of the 16 that surround it. Chinese are more focused on the US and on Japan (sometimes even Russia), who occupy a bigger share of their mind that many would imagine.
When asked about the Indian protest against goods made in China, they shake their heads. They’ve not even heard of it. Clearly, it is something that vexes India, not China. Even Pakistan is relatively an unknown country for most Chinese.
But talk to the strategists and those who influence policy formation and they are at pains to explain that every move of China is often misunderstood by India. When queried about China’s refusal to condemn terrorists inside Pakistan, there is guarded silence. Their response is, “This is something for India and China to sort out for themselves.”
But probe further and you will find that not many in China are happy with Pakistan. A good example is the way the government issued a notification a month ago in one of its provinces asking hotels there not to accommodate guests from a clutch of countries largely populated by Muslims. Pakistan’s name was included among them. Obviously, even within China, Pakistanis are viewed with suspicion. Evidently, the bonhomie with Pakistan is not too deep, notwithstanding official claims to the contrary.
Within China, few are willing to be quoted on its relationship with either India or Pakistan. But talk to people who are well-informed. If they have begun to trust you, and treat you as a friend, they begin to explain China’s stand.
“China needs Pakistan as a friend. It needs access to Chhabahar port, which in turn provides it access to the seas from which oil flows. The port provides a shorter access to global energy sources thanthe route to China’s eastern ports. That is why China will not do anything to antagonize Pakistan,” says one expert.
“China needs India as well. India represents a large market. And it’s a neighbor. Both these are good reasons for warm and cordial relations,” adds another.
As for the boycott, such people smile and say that it is quite possible that the boycott has been egged on by manufacturers in India. “A boycott of Chinese goods won’t work,” says the head of a China think-tank.
Almost all mobile phones are made in China. Can Indians boycott them? Ditto with most electronic and telecommunication gadgets. The boycott appears to be confined to only those items that are popular for the Diwali festival, and where local manufacturers and traders want to peddle their goods at higher prices.
In Mumbai, just go to Lohar Chawl, and you will see customers flocking to shops where decorative lights from China are available at very low prices. Wholesellers still come to this market to buy lights, lamps and other such items which they then sell to other customers. The social media campaign against Chinese goods doesn’t appear to have affected them at all.