It’s hard to find a China dove in Washington these days. In New Delhi, it’s impossible. After a brutal, high-altitude skirmish in Ladakh last month left 20 Indian soldiers dead, anti-Chinese fury has surged on the subcontinent.
There’s talk of consumer boycotts and investment bans; the government appears to be slow-walking once-routine approvals for Chinese imports. Recently, authorities even booted goofy-video platform TikTok off of Indians’ phones, along with 58 other Chinese apps.
The anger is understandable. China enjoys a massive surplus in trade with India, has invested heavily in its more modern and capable military, and is steadily encroaching upon its rival’s traditional sphere of influence in the Indian Ocean, as well as along their disputed land border. It poses an unmistakable long-term challenge.
But restricting trade, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government seemed inclined to do even before this latest clash, would be a hopelessly misguided response. A new protectionist wave will only hurt ordinary Indians when they can least afford it, raising prices for consumers in the middle of a pandemic, depriving companies of key inputs and choking off much-needed investment.
Given that India is only China’s 16th-largest trading partner, moreover, such measures are unlikely to strike fear into Beijing.