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India’s app ban decision ‘suspects’ of violating WTO rules: Chinese Embassy


The Chinese Embassy in India, on Tuesday, alleged that India’s decision to ban 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, WeChat, Cam Scanner, and UC Browser, “abuses national security exceptions, and suspects of violating the WTO rules”. It is also against the “general trend” of international trade and e-commerce activities, and is “not conducive to consumer interests and the market competition in India”, the embassy said. “The Chinese side is seriously concerned with and firmly opposed to such action,” it added.

The embassy also said that the banned apps have a large user base in India, and operate “strictly” in accordance with Indian laws. “The ban will affect not only the employment of local Indian workers who support these apps, but also the interests of Indian users and the employment and livelihoods of many creators and entrepreneurs,” it added.

Will China have a strong case against India if it goes to the WTO?

“China can allege that India has violated the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) agreement,” said Sarvjeet Singh, director at the Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University, Delhi. The GATT agreement is a legal agreement between countries whose overall purpose is to promote international trade by reducing or eliminating trade barriers such as tariffs or quotas.

“However, even assuming that India is in violation of the GATT agreement, it still has a strong enough case by virtue of the WTO rule exemptions based on security-grounds. If China were to approach WTO, India can easily invoke the security exemptions clause under GATT which allows it to take certain decisions in time of war or other emergency in international relations [Article XXI, b(iii)]”, Singh added. Approaching WTO to complain about India’s decision could also turn out to be counterproductive for China as it may be asked to justify banning apps and other websites in its territory, he said, adding, “it’ll open a can of worms”.

TikTok, WeChat, UC Browser, Cam Scanner, among the 59 apps banned in India

The statement comes after the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology late Monday night decided to block 59 apps, all from Chinese companies based on information that these apps are “engaged in activities which [are] prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”. The blocking order, which came amid heightened tensions between India and China, was issued under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.

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Read: How does a Section 69A blocking order come into existence?

At the time of publication, TikTok and Helo, were no longer available on Apple and Google’s app stores. Both the apps went missing from the Apple App Store at around 1:30 am on June 30, while they vanished from Google Play Store on the morning of June 30 (between 3 am and 7:30 am). At the time of publication, only Bytedance-owned app — TikTok, Helo, and Vigo Video — were removed from respective app stores, and the remaining 56 apps could still be downloaded.

For users who already had the TikTok app installed, it now shows a “user notice” saying that it’s complying with the Indian government’s order, and no content shows up. It isn’t clear if telecom operators and ISPs have blocked access to TikTok or if the app has stopped services from its end.

The message that was displayed on TikTok on the evening of June 30

Watch: India-China cyber face-off

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