India bans TikTok, WeChat, and dozens of other Chinese apps

Foreign Affairs

India has escalated its border confrontation with China, two weeks after a deadly clash at the Line of Actual Control. This time, cyberspace borders are at stake: India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) announced today that it would completely ban and disable all access within India to 59 China-based app, including TikTok and WeChat.

SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

The India-China border confrontation escalated again today, two weeks after a deadly clash on the fuzzy Line of Actual Control (LAC) between Indian-controlled Ladakh and Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin.

This time, cyberspace borders are at stake. India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) announced today that it would completely ban and disable all access within India to 59 China-based apps. MeitY did not spare even the most widely used, like TikTok, or those with important cross-border business functions, like WeChat.

“Upon receiving recent credible inputs that such apps pose threat to sovereignty and integrity of India,” The Hindu reports, “the Government of India has decided to disallow the usage…both [on] mobile and non-mobile Internet-enabled devices.” MeitY has instructed Google and Apple to remove the apps from their stores, and asked telecom operators and internet service providers to block access on their networks. The Times of India confirms that this is not just a ban on downloading the apps, but also an order to disable access and cut off all Indian traffic to these 59 Chinese apps.

That means TikTok has now lost its largest overseas market, at least temporarily. According to SensorTower data from April, India accounted for 30% of TikTok’s 2 billion downloads globally.

  • More than 200 million Indians were active users of TikTok, the Guardian notes, and some Indian TikTokers had tens of millions of followers.
  • While TikTok had dropped in download rankings in recent weeks as some Indians boycotted the China-made product, it “still remained on the list of top-ten popular apps in India” up until the ban, per India Today.

This is not the first time India has banned TikTok. Per The Verge, last year “Indian lawmakers said TikTok was encouraging the spread of explicit content and ‘cultural degradation.’ The ban was lifted after about a week.”

Beyond TikTok: India was also China’s largest growth market overall in app downloads. According to Matt Sheehan of MacroPolo, “India was the only major developing country where Chinese apps overtook U.S. [apps] between 2015 and 2019.”

There is some irony in India’s invocation of “sovereignty” in relation to its internet, as China has championed a “cyber sovereignty” or “internet sovereignty” concept since the early days of the Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 administration.

More on TikTok on SupChina: TikTok: The one China-based app to explode globally.

More on India-China relations: