Think of it as Xi Jinping’s Himalayan blunder. The final outcome of the border standoff between China and India may be uncertain, but the consequences of New Delhi’s decision last week to ban 59 Chinese apps, including the popular video-sharing app TikTok, are clear. Should the ban stick, and be emulated by other countries, it could seriously set back Beijing’s ambition to replace the U.S. as the world’s dominant technological power.
“Chinese companies can’t really be global if they lose out on India,” says Rush Doshi, an expert on Chinese strategy at the Brookings Institution. “And if India can do this, then other countries can do it too.” On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News that the U.S. was considering a ban on TikTok and other Chinese social-media apps. Australia is also pondering a TikTok ban.
The damage may not be limited to India. The Indian ban could have a “cascading effect,” says Adam Segal, an expert on Chinese technology firms at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Pompeo’s remarks are the most obvious example. In the past, opposition from India effectively derailed Facebook’s “Free Basics” plan to provide stripped-down internet access in poor countries. Beyond technology, many other countries now echo objections to China’s Belt and Road Initiative first voiced by India three years ago.
We will only know how inward India will turn in the coming months and years. But one thing seems certain: If India’s app ban stays, Xi Jinping’s Himalayan adventure will have cost his country dearly.