A Popular ‘Boycott China’ Campaign Emerges From a Conflict Zone in India

By Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.
November 2, 2020Updated: November 6, 2020

LEH, India—Since India and China’s war-like buildup on the disputed border in Ladakh, an innovator and education reformist has been reminding people in a series of popular videos to deal with China through their wallets rather than bullets.

Sonam Wangchuk, an engineer who holds a special voice in contemporary India’s social innovation landscape, has been communicating from his base at the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives (HIAL) in Phyang Valley in Ladakh through a series of videos since May, when the Chinese incursions into Indian territory started.

The videos are a part of a campaign called “I Live Simply,” which aims to change human behavior to address the climate emergency and encompasses Sonam’s boycott of made-in-China. The Epoch Times visited Sonam at HIAL to talk about his boycott campaign and his approach to finding solutions to Chinese manipulation of the global market by inspiring people to “live simply.”

“Each individual in the world has amazing power. One power is that they can choose their own leaders, which is an unprecedented power we have acquired through our democracy,” Sonam said, while seated in an open terrace facing a panoramic view of mountains and a desert that HIAL is afforesting.

“But the other, that is even more than making a Donald Trump or Barack Obama, we shape the world that we see. So if we learn to live in ways that do not support exploitation of the environment, or exploitation of nations, politically, by strengthening a regime that is producing all this, we need to have the right values,” he said.

Sonam said “wallet power” isn’t about “high philosophy” but signifies the individual power that has the means to “not encourage” regimes such as the Chinese Communist Party.

“It’s not just me and the toothbrush or the pair of shoes that I buy, but what it does, if it fuels a monster that is, you know, causing so much disharmony and pain around, then I have the power to not patronize that. That’s where I say wallet power,” he said.

His campaign struck a chord with people globally during the pandemic, and it picked up more support inside India after a bloody conflict between India and China on June 15 at Galwan, over 120 miles from where he lives.

“It was partly influenced by what was happening right next door—bullying and aggression and so on, after Tibet, [it’s] Ladakh, [and] that irritates, irks Ladakh,” Sonam said about his campaign.

When The Epoch Times visited him at HIAL on Oct. 16, there was heavy traffic of Indian army vehicles on the national highway leading to the Institute, and the tensions between the two nations still continue despite a series of high-level diplomatic and military talks, while the anti-China sentiment within India is high.

‘Pathetic Double Standards’

Sonam said material consumption can never be the source of contentment; he wishes people were brought up to understand that.

“The whole thing is about going too materialistic. Life spins around material exchange and material production and material consumption. Perhaps our education should have been our upbringing, our cultural evolution should have been more balanced to see that, beyond a point, material isn’t the source of contentment,” he said.

“I am totally not with no material, not enough material, comfort—nobody will be happy with a hungry stomach,” he said, adding that a balance has to be struck, and also that more satisfaction can be achieved by sharing with others rather than by consuming alone.

Sonam said he’s not just irked by what China is doing on the Indian border but also by what China is doing to its own people. At some point, the world and its leaders have to take responsibility for enabling China to do that, he said.

“And the people around the world were gullible, who are flowing in this river of desires to get their cheap products without caring what that does tomorrow or day after,” he said, adding that it’s not just ordinary people, but also leaders of various nations who are keen for economic deals with China.

“They would not overlook these things when it’s like, Kuwait with Saddam attacking. But they would overlook when China is doing that to Tibet, or Xinjiang, or so on,” Sonam said. “And they would overlook that China doesn’t even let its own people have access to information.”

He said it’s difficult to understand “what they thought” when they gave China various globalization benefits while China even refused to allow its own people to access information.

“We have something like village citizenship—a citizen of the village. So to enjoy all the benefits of support from the village, you have to deliver certain requirements of the village. … Only when you pay all those dues, you enjoy the rest,” he said, adding that the world gave China that status without asking it to fulfill the requirements.

“They don’t give freedom of access to information, even leave aside other things. They keep their people closed. They can do whatever to extract labor from them. They can do whatever to extract resources from the earth,” he said.

“They are exempt from all these regulations and norms of civilized behavior. And what does the West do? Instead of demanding them to follow, they’re moving their own plants there to benefit from this extraction and exploitation so they can produce cheap and sell it with a big margin in America, which is pathetic double standards.”

‘Post-Modern Economics’

Sonam said he hopes the CCP virus has shaken the world sufficiently and that the new normal won’t be the same as the previous normal. He spoke of humanity endorsing a harmony that’s not broken.

“So until COVID, I think it was a party—as if there was no tomorrow. And parties don’t last forever. Hopefully, COVID has shaken them to see something new,” Sonam said.

“But when we talk of normal, new normal, I don’t want to think of the same as the normal before, when GDP [growth] was 8 percent, 9 percent, 7 percent. And we would celebrate that. So we have to think of a different kind of world where harmony is not broken.”

Sonam said the “post-modern economics” would determine costs for everything in the environment, and not just of the human-built, as our current economy does.

“Where everything is costed, not just your house and your car, and so on. The air you get is never costed. The service that plants and animals provide you is never costed,” he said when asked what he means by harmony in today’s world.

He said that we first destroy our environment and exploit its resources and then try to find industrial solutions for what we’ve destroyed.

“And we can’t see that we are cutting the same branch where we are sitting,” he said.

“Nowadays, they’re talking about CO2 parts per million going so high that we have to sequester it, and then send it deep into the earth to store it. Well, what are your coal mines? They are exactly that,” he said.

“On one hand, you’re plundering that and bringing it out and releasing what algae stored or other numerous plants stored, again, releasing it to create the same atmosphere that we had 3 billion years ago, which is why life was not possible.”

Sonam said both discussions—one about sequestering carbon and sending it deep down into the earth and the other about mining coal to fire power plants—are happening at the same time.

“We are not so stupid that we kill all these engines that do exactly what you thought was a bright idea or innovation. And then we live without their service, where the air is unbreathable,” he said, adding that we talk about the human mortality rate due to coronavirus, but we forget about the rate at which other forms of life are disappearing from the earth.

Epoch Times Photo
Sonam Wangchuk at the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives in Phyang Valley in Ladakh, India, on Oct. 16, 2020. (Venus Upadhayaya/The Epoch Times)

CCP Fueling a Consumeristic Mindset

“The Chinese Communist Party and its strength is because of the consumeristic mindset of the rest of the world. Their strength has come from the world that wants cheap things to fulfill their desires, and so on,” he said.

“And that has been happening ever since we started living beyond our means—you know, we need one pair of shoes, and we have 10 or 14—that kind of lifestyle. That is where we went wrong in just overdoing, over-consuming, and thinking that is an index of success.”

He said we need to understand who was created for whom and that the market was created for facilitating human life.

Nowadays “you may find human life shaped to suit the market—that was never the idea,” he said.

“Because of this mindset and approach, we have become consumption monsters that want more and more and more of everything. And that more and more is limited by your means, your income. And China filled that gap by producing cheap to give more and more of consumables to the people, and in the process, it did whatever to its people, to its natural resources, to its forests, nobody cared as long as they kept getting their own cheap goods.”