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Google pulls ‘Remove China Apps’ from Play Store

Remove China Apps, an app that gained popularity in India in recent weeks and did exactly what its name suggests, has been pulled from the Play Store.

The top trending app in India, which was downloaded more than 5 million times since late May and enabled users to detect and easily delete apps developed by Chinese firms, was pulled from Android’s marquee app store for violating Google Play Store’s Deceptive Behaviour Policy, TechCrunch has learned.

Under this policy an app on Google Play Store cannot make changes to a user’s device settings, or features outside of the app without the user’s knowledge and consent, and not it can encourage or incentivize users into removing or disabling third-party apps.

The app, developed by Indian firm OneTouch AppLabs, gained popularity in India in part because of a growing anti-China sentiment among many citizens as tension between the world’s two most populous nations has escalated in recent days over a Himalayan border dispute.

Several Indian celebrities in recent days have backed the idea of deleting Chinese apps. Yoga guru Baba Ramdev tweeted a video over the weekend that showed him deleting several apps that had affiliation with China.

Responding to a tweet from an Indian actor deleting TikTok from his phone, Nupur Sharma, a spokeswoman for India’s ruling party BJP, said it was “great to see concerned citizens setting an example” and “we ought to hit them where it hurts most.”

Citing an industry source, Chinese state-run Global Times news outlet reported on Tuesday that if the Indian government allows the “irrational anti-China sentiment” to continue it risks ruining bilateral relations that is “likely to draw tit-for-tat punishment from Beijing.”

The report added that some users in China ridiculed Remove China Apps and urged Indians to “throw away” their smartphones, referring to Chinese smartphone makers’ dominance in India’s smartphone market.

If the sentiment from India persists, it could mean bad news for several Chinese firms such as ByteDance and UC Browser that count India as their biggest overseas market. TikTok, which weeks ago was grappling with content moderation efforts in India, sparked a new debate over the weekend after a popular creator claimed that a video she posted on TikTok was pulled by the Chinese firm.

The video was critical of the Chinese government, she said. In a statement to TechCrunch, a TikTok spokesperson said the platform welcomes diversity of users and viewpoints and said it had implemented a more rigorous review process and reinstated the video.

In April, India amended its foreign direct investment policy to enforce tougher scrutiny on Chinese investors looking to cut checks to firms in the world’s second largest internet market. New Delhi, which maintains a similar stand for investors from several other neighboring nations, said the measure was introduced to “curb the opportunistic takeover” of Indian firms going through distress because of the global pandemic.

India’s Prime Minister Modi has also aggressively promoted the idea of boycotting goods made by foreign firms and advised the nation’s 1.3 billion citizens to look for local alternatives as part of his push to make India “self-reliant” and revive the slowing economy.

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To avoid hostile takeovers amid COVID-19, India mandates approvals on Chinese investments

Chinese investors, who have poured about $6 billion into Indian startups in the last two years, will be subjected to strict regulation for their future investments in the world’s second largest internet market.

India amended its foreign direct investment policy on Saturday to require all neighboring nations with which it shares a boundary to seek approval from New Delhi for their future deals in the country. Previously, only Pakistan and Bangladesh were subjected to this requirement.

Prior to this move, the Indian government, like most others, only prohibited deals occurring in atomic energy, defense, and space industries. Watchdogs in several markets also typically intervene in major foreign investments that pose competitive disadvantage to other players in a category.

The nation’s Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade said it was taking this measure to “curb the opportunistic takeover” of Indian firms that are grappling with challenges due to the coronavirus crises.

“The government has reviewed the extant foreign direct investment policy for curbing opportunistic takeovers/acquisitions of Indian companies due to the current COVID-19 pandemic,” the trade ministry said in a note dated April 17.

The new rule will also be applicable to “the transfer of ownership of any existing or future foreign direct investment in an entity in India, directly or indirectly,” it added.

Bangalore-based lawyer Nikhil Narendran told TechCrunch that the move appears to be aimed at China. “There has been a growing concern across the globe that Chinese companies are buying cheap, distressed asset. Government may be thinking that if this is allowed to continue, it may raise some security concerns,” he said.

India appears to be following efforts from other countries such as Australia that have either tighten their foreign direct investment policies in recent weeks or are exploring similar moves, he said.

The revision in policy comes at a time when major investors in India have cautioned local startups to prepare for a tough period ahead. Earlier this month, they told startup founders that raising fresh capital is likely be more challenging than ever for the next few months.

Recent data from research firm Tracxn showed that Indian startups have already started to face the pressure.

Local startups participated in 79 deals to raise $496 million in March, down from $2.86 billion that they raised across 104 deals in February and $1.24 billion they raised from 93 deals in January this year, according to Tracxn. In March last year, Indian startups had raised $2.1 billion across 153 deals, the firm said.

India ordered a nationwide lockdown last month in a bid to curtail the spread of the coronavirus disease. But the move, as in other markets, has come at a cost. Millions of businesses and startups are facing severe disruptions.

Late last month, more than 100 prominent startups, VC funds, and industry bodies requested New Delhi to provide them with a relief fund to combat the disruption.

Chinese giants Alibaba and Tencent have emerged as some of the biggest investors in Indian startups in recent years. Over a dozen additional firms and venture funds in China have stepped up their efforts in scouting deals in India.

Some of India’s biggest startups including financial services firm Paytm, e-commerce giant Flipkart, social media operator ShareChat, and food delivery firm Zomato are backed by Chinese VCs. HDFC, India’s biggest bank, said earlier this month that Bank of China had raised its stake in the mortgage lender by over 1%.

Rahul Gandhi, the former head of political party Indian Nation Congress, urged the ruling government earlier this month to take measures to prevent “foreign interests from taking control of any Indian corporate at this time of national crisis.”

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