India has banned 118 additional Chinese apps — including Tencent’s hugely popular battle-royale game PUBG Mobile — after troops from the two countries engaged in fresh skirmishes along their disputed Himalayan border.
The move comes after a similar crackdown this summer against 59 Chinese apps, including popular video app TikTok, as New Delhi retaliates against what it alleges is Chinese aggression with tough economic action targeting the country’s companies.
New Delhi said on Wednesday that the newly blocked apps — owned by Chinese tech giants such as Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu — were “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting” Indian users’ data to foreign servers.
The Indian government alleged that users’ data were being mined by “elements hostile to national security and defence of India,” threatening the country’s “sovereignty and integrity” and would need to be combated by “emergency measures”.
The latest ban follows several days of confrontation between Indian and Chinese troops now jockeying for control of strategic heights and other advantageous positions in the sparsely populated Ladakh border region.
A senior Indian government official told the Financial Times that the on-going military manoeuvres by the rival armies on the remote and inhospitable Tibetan plateau were “something above a competition and below a conflict”.
Relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours have deteriorated sharply since a June border clash in which 21 Indian soldiers died, and an unknown number of Chinese troops were killed or injured — the first fatalities of the border dispute in decades.
Multiple rounds of talks on military disengagement have failed to yield results, leaving tens of thousands of troops, supported by heavy equipment, locked in a tense stand-off.
New Delhi this week accused the People’s Liberation Army of “provocative and aggressive movements” after Chinese troops allegedly tried to occupy an area claimed by India on the southern bank of Ladakh’s picturesque Pangong Lake.
The Indian government demanded that Beijing “discipline and control their frontline troops”.
Another skirmish took place on Monday, when Indian authorities say their troops took possession of a previously unmanned strategic height, fearing that Chinese troops were planning to establish a position there.
China has accused India of “illegally trespassing” on to China’s side of the disputed border and demanded that Indian troops immediately withdraw. It added that New Delhi must “strictly control and restrain” its soldiers.
In editorials on Monday and Tuesday, Global Times, a state-backed nationalist Chinese tabloid, accused India of taking a “radical and hardline” approach to border disputes, and urged Chinese troops to “resolutely counterattack” in the face of Indian aggression.
“The system that has managed the border situation for decades is now crumbling,” the newspaper said.
Until this year, the inhospitable borderlands of Ladakh, where oxygen levels are just 60 per cent of those at sea level and temperatures can drop to as low as minus 40C, were mostly left unmanned in winter and only lightly guarded in summer, with border patrols covering vast areas of territory.
Occasionally, rival patrols encountered each other in the disputed areas, and engaged in brawls, shouting matches and stone-throwing. Rival sides held up banners claiming the land as their own. But by mutually agreed protocol, no firearms were used in these fights to avoid an inadvertent escalation of the conflict.
But tensions surged this summer after New Delhi claimed Chinese troops set up entrenched positions in areas traditionally patrolled by India. Hostilities boiled over into the deadly June brawl about a newly established Chinese position in the Galwan Valley.
Since the fatal fight, India has imposed new restrictions on Chinese investment, and informally told telecoms operators to phase out Chinese equipment from suppliers such as Huawei from their networks, as well as banning the Chinese apps.
The latest banned apps includes a diverse array of software, ranging from Chinese Tinder-equivalent Tantan to beautification app Meitu, which helps digitally alter face shapes, eye colour and skin tone in selfies.
The list also includes some of China’s most popular apps created by its technology champions, such as Alibaba payments app Alipay and the flagship mobile app of Baidu, the country’s leading search engine.
However, the biggest blow may be to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, a South Korean-developed multiplayer game published by Tencent.
As of July, India was the game’s most popular market, with 175m installations, or slightly less than a quarter of the global total, according to Sensor Tower, a San Francisco-based research firm.