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The anti-China wave gathers steam

As the mood on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) continues to remain tense after the death of 20 Indian soldiers in a violent clash with Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley on the night of June 15, the Indian government gives “full freedom” to the local commanders to give a “befitting” response to any Chinese misadventure.

A majority of India’s medical devices ranging from a simple thermometer to cotton wool and electrocardiograph (ECG) machines to catheters are imported, and up to 11 per cent of them are from China, the latest import data from the Ministry of Commerce showed.

In certain device categories, Chinese imports are as high as 87 per cent of total imports.

In 2019-20, India imported medical devices worth ₹42,245 crore of which China accounted for a 11 per cent share at ₹4,559 crore.

Of the 147 categories of devices, analysis of import data showed that the dependence on China was high in 11 product categories. These include acupuncture apparatus, pregnancy confirmation kits, ice bags, clinical thermometers, adhesive gauze bandages, corn and callus removers, fistula needles, weighing scales, hot water bottles, articles of apparel and clothing accessories and poultice of kaolin (used in compression for sprains). Imports of these 11 categories were worth ₹109.67 crore of which China’s share was ₹95.51 crore (around 87 per cent), according to 2019-20 projections..

“Indian manufacturers are losing out to the Chinese as they offer cheaper prices. Also, Indian companies are not able to bid for Chinese tenders as China has a clear policy for supporting their domestic devices. Whereas India on the other hand sees a lot of second hand imports from China and elsewhere in the world, of older devices which are dumped into our hospitals. In a few years, they expire and it is tough to find spare parts to repair older devices,” said Rajiv Nath, Managing Director of Hindustan Syringes and Medical Devices.

For another nine devices, including certain diagnostic reagents, outer garments, medicated cotton wool, digital thermometers, blood pressure instruments, synthetic fibers, India’s dependence on Chinese imports is between 50 and 70 per cent.

India’s imports of these nine items alone are worth ₹1,032 crore, of which China accounts for ₹644.40 crore (up to 62 per cent) as projected for 2019-20.

In the case of 17 devices, which include male condoms, oxygen therapy apparatus, ECGs, hospital beds with mechanical fittings, dentists’ chairs and so on, 25 to 50 per cent of these goods are imported from China, worth up to ₹853.14 crore out of total imports worth ₹2,502.52 crore.

For another 109 devices that India imports, China’s share is smaller (₹2,966.69 crore of ₹38,601.38 crore). These include calorimeters, orthopaedic or fracture appliances, blood transfusion apparatus, surgical bone saws, cannulae, dialysis apparatus, endoscopes, baby incubators, stethoscopes, malaria diagnostic kits, pacemakers, and so on.

In sync with the current sentiment, the Union Home Ministry is likely to stall security clearance to a clutch of Chinese companies seeking to invest in India. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) received more than 20 proposals for foreign direct investment (FDI), including from China and Hong Kong, requiring security clearance between April and May.

The powers that be need to pause here. Will it be beneficial for India to boycott China? Can India afford it? The world’s factory, China is among the largest trade partners of almost all countries. India has only a small share in its exports and imports. Chinese investments in India have been increasing steadily over the past two decades. Does India want to turn the border dispute into a trade war, when it is already in a precarious situation, with the economy set to contract in FY21 due to the COVID-19 lockdown?

MB Bureau

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