India PM Modi shuts Weibo account amid border tensions with China

Narendra Modi deletes account on Chinese social media platform as tensions with China simmer over border clash.

Outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Ahmedabad
Modi was among a handful of foreign leaders with a Weibo account [Amit Dave/Reuters]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has deleted his account on Sina Weibo, China’s alternative to Twitter, an Indian government source and the company said, as tensions between the two countries continue to simmer over a border skirmish last month.

Since posting on Sina Weibo the first time in 2015 during a visit to China, Modi has been an infrequent user of the Chinese social media platform. He had more than 200,000 followers and 100 posts before the account was shut on Wednesday.

Sina Weibo announced the closure of the account late on Wednesday and the removal comes a few days after India banned dozens of Chinese apps, including Sina Weibo and ByteDance’s TikTok, following the border clash between the two nations.

Pompeo backs apps ban

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday applauded India’s sweeping ban on Chinese apps including TikTok, saying New Delhi was ensuring its own security.

“We welcome India’s ban on certain mobile apps that can serve as appendages of the CCP surveillance state,” Pompeo said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

“India’s clean app approach will boost India’s sovereignty and will also boost India’s integrity and national security, as the Indian government cell itself has stated,” he said.

India had been the top international market for TikTok, the blockbuster Chinese app popular with young people that lets users upload and share short videos.

India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said the apps “are engaged in activities … prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.

The head of TikTok India, however, denied charges that the company shared any information from its users with a foreign government, including China. 

Anti-China sentiment

India lost 20 soldiers in the clash last month at the disputed Himalayan border. Both sides blamed each other for the deadliest border clash in nearly 50 years.

The deaths triggered enormous outrage and street protests in India.

Anti-China sentiment has long simmered in India over accusations of cheap imports flooding the country, but the border clash has brought tensions to the fore with calls being made to boycott Chinese products.

Indian traders to boycott Chinese products

Meanwhile, reacting to the apps ban, China’s Ministry of Commerce said on Thursday it hopes India would correct its discriminatory actions against Chinese companies immediately.

China has not adopted any restrictive or discriminatory measures against Indian products and services, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng told reporters in an online briefing, adding that India’s actions are in violation of WTO rules.

Earlier, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was concerned about India’s decision to ban Chinese apps and was making checks to verify the situation.

An Indian government source told Reuters news agency on Thursday that it took time to get Modi’s account taken down.

“For VIP accounts, Weibo has a more complex procedure to quit which is why the official process was initiated. For reasons best known to the Chinese, there was great delay in granting this basic permission,” the source said.

The Indian source added all of Modi’s posts on Weibo had been deleted except for two showing pictures of him with Xi. “On Weibo, it is difficult to remove posts with the photo of their president,” the source said.

HR Venkatesh, of Boom Factcheck, a New Delhi-based fact-checking website, told Al Jazeera the banned apps are huge in India – not just in terms of the number of users but also the cultural effect they have on people.

Modi was among a handful of foreign leaders with a Weibo account.

Notably, he revealed the birth dates of both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang by wishing them “Happy Birthday” on Weibo. The birth dates of senior leaders in China are usually not revealed publicly.

Chinese leaders are rarely active on social media. Foreign social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies