NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An influential Hindu nationalist group and an Indian traders body called on Thursday for a boycott of Chinese goods, to slap Beijing for blocking a move to put a Pakistani militant leader on a U.N. terrorist list following a suicide attack last month.
Regarded by Pakistan as its most reliable friend, China has repeatedly thwarted efforts to implement U.N. sanctions against Masood Azhar, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the group that claimed responsibility for the attack that killed 40 paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), which represents 70 million traders, said it would burn Chinese goods on March 19 to “teach a lesson” to China.
“The time has come when China should suffer due to its proximity with Pakistan,” CAIT said in a statement. “The CAIT has launched a national campaign to boycott Chinese goods among the trading community of the country, calling the traders not to sell or buy Chinese goods.”
The United States, Britain and France asked the Security Council’s Islamic State and al Qaeda sanctions committee to subject the Jaish leader to an arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze.
But China a placed a “technical hold” on the proposal, saying it needed more time to consider, using the same stalling tactic it has used in the past.
Mounting impatience with Beijing’s stance was evident on social media on Thursday as #BoycottChineseProducts was the second-highest trending hashtag on Twitter in India.
Similar campaigns in the past have proved ineffectual.
China is India’s second biggest trading partner. Chinese products - from mobile phones made by companies such as Xiaomi Inc to toys - are ubiquitous in India and trade between the countries grew to nearly $90 billion in the year ending March 2018.
The leader of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, the economic wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist group with close ties to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also called for a boycott of Chinese goods.
He also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi recommending that India hit Beijing with higher tariffs.
“Government of India needs to take immediate action to raise tariff duties on all Chinese imports,” Ashwani Mahajan said in the letter, seen by Reuters.
“China, which is already under economic stress, thanks to trade war initiated by U.S. and other trade partners of China, will definitely realize the implications of the unjust action of protecting terrorists.”
India’s trade ministry said in an email the country can’t take any unilateral punitive action against a fellow member of the World Trade Organization.
A senior government official, who refused to be named as he was not authorized to speak to media, said there has been a move to “restrict” Chinese imports but that India was not in a position to replace products such as electronics
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley warned against any hasty reaction.
“It’s a diplomatic issue, and India will take a decision after a careful thought,” Jaitley told CNN-News18. “We’re not a small player on the global stage, but foreign policy issues are tackled in a measured way, not in a knee-jerk manner.”
With just weeks to go before a general election, India’s main opposition Congress party said Modi’s attempts to improve ties with China were not yielding results.
“Weak Modi is scared of Xi. Not a word comes out of his mouth when China acts against India,” Congress President Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed message seeking comment on the boycott calls.
Renu Kohli, an independent economist in New Delhi, doubted whether any boycott would hit critical mass.
“It’s going to fizzle out sooner or later when the consumer realizes that their pocket is being hit by costlier domestic products,” said Kohli.
Reporting by Krishna N. Das and Neha Dasgupta in NEW DELHI; Additional reporting by Aditya Kalra in NEW DELHI and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie & Simon Cameron-Moore