(Bloomberg) — India banned ByteDance Ltd.’s viral short video service TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps, citing threats to its sovereignty and security as relations between the world’s two largest populations worsened.
The unprecedented moratorium, announced days after escalating border tensions in the Himalayas left 20 Indian soldiers dead, deals a blow to the most prominent names in Chinese technology. The banned services included e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s UC Web, social media leader Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat and Baidu Inc.’s map and translation platforms.
The move marks another attempt by India to reduce dependence on its neighbor’s products and hampers efforts by China’s largest corporations to expand beyond their own borders — a collective endeavor encapsulated by TikTok’s phenomenal success abroad and particularly in India, ByteDance’s largest international market. The world’s most valuable startup responded by saying it wants to work with Modi’s government to improve security for its hundreds of millions of domestic users.
“Building empowered local management teams in the countries where TikTok operates, including India, has been critical to our global success,” the company said in a statement. “Our team of around 2,000 employees in India is committed to working with the government to demonstrate our dedication to user security and our commitment to the country overall.”
The ban threatens to escalate tensions between two of Asia’s largest economies. As the border standoff that had simmered for nearly two months worsened, customs officials began halting clearances of industrial consignments coming in from China at major Indian ports and airports. The ban announced Monday also includes smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp.’s Mi Video Call and Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like service.
“Despite attempts at de-escalation and multiple rounds of talks, tensions are still high” between Bejing and New Delhi, Eurasia Group analysts led by Akhil Bery wrote in a note Tuesday. “Beijing has been taking a low-key approach to the dispute in China’s state media, but India’s highly public move will make that difficult and raise expectations from the public of a strong response — particularly in a climate where the leadership has been ramping up patriotic sentiment amid the pandemic.”