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Singapore wants to know why the Indian government banned Garena Free Fire

Tencent’s investment could be one of the reasons for the ban, but that still leaves room for explanation.

Source: Google Play Store App Images

Singapore has raised concerns with the Indian government over the ban on popular battle royale game Garena Free Fire, which is owned by Singapore-based Sea Limited, Reuters reported on February 24.

Earlier this month, the Indian government issued an order banning an additional 54 apps linked to China stating that they pose a threat to the privacy and security of Indians. The list of banned apps was not made public by the government, but Google confirmed to Sea that Free Fire was banned based on a government order under Section 69A. The day following the ban, Sea’s shares plunged 18% in New York, wiping off more than $16 billion from the company’s market value.

While China has raised concerns about India’s app bans multiple times in the past, this is Singapore’s first diplomatic intervention. India’s boiler-plate response that the ban was instituted for security reasons might not sell this time because Singapore is not China.

Both, the Singaporean and Indian governments did not respond to Reuters for comments. MediaNama has filed an RTI with the IT Ministry asking for a copy of any correspondence received from Singapore on this matter.

What are Singapore’s concerns?

According to Reuters, the Singaporean government has raised the following concerns with India’s Ministry of External Affairs, which has routed the same to the IT Ministry:

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  1. Why was Free Fire banned even though Sea is based out of Singapore? 
  2. Was the app banned unintentionally?

Sea is not a Chinese company, but China’s Tencent owns an 18.7 % stake in the company, which could be one of the reasons behind Free Fire’s inclusion in the list. But Sea responded to the ban saying that it does not transfer to or store any data of Indian users in China.

Why Free Fire ban is strange

Despite the Chinese connection through, Free Fire’s ban is strange for the following reasons:

  1. Sea-owned Shopee not banned: Sea also owns the popular e-commerce app Shopee, which is currently available for download in app stores in India. If the concern was that Sea is partly owned by Tencent, then Shopee should have also been banned, a demand that the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) made a day after the Free Fire ban.
  2. Free Fire MAX still available: The premium version of the game, Garena Free Fire MAX, which has better graphics, is still available on Google Play Store, and is now the most downloaded game in India.
  3. List predominately includes clones of already banned Chinese apps: The list of banned apps circulating in the media includes apps like Beauty Camera: Sweet Selfie HD, Music Plus – MP3 Player, Live Weather & Radar – Alerts, Tencent Xriver, most of which are clones of apps banned by India in 2020. Secondly, most apps have a clear Chinese connection, unlike Free Fire. Lastly, none of the other apps is as popular as Free Fire which has over 40 million users in India.

Chinese government wants India to be non-discriminatory

China expressed serious concerns regarding the ban and said that India should treat all foreign investors, including Chinese firms, in a transparent, fair, and non-discriminatory manner, Reuters reported.

Gao Feng, a spokesperson in the Chinese commerce ministry was quoted as saying:

“We hope India can take concrete measures to maintain the sound development momentum of bilateral economic and trade cooperation.”

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