China’s state-run Global Times on Wednesday pushed back against India’s informal boycott of Chinese products by telling Indians to adopt the brutal “996” work schedule to “catch up” with China’s tech industry instead of resorting to protectionism.
The 996 schedule refers to working from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., six days per week. Workers in Chinese tech companies have been protesting these long hours as unfair exploitation and a threat to their health.
Protesters are spotlighting companies that demand 996 work schedules from their employees and advising foreigners to refrain from doing business with them. The blacklist included 150 companies as of early April.
Curiously, the 996 schedule technically violates Chinese labor laws, which call for 40-hour work weeks plus up to 36 hours of overtime per month, but many large companies violate these limits with impunity. Billionaire Jack Ma, owner of the massive Alibaba holding company and the richest man in China, expressed open contempt last week for employees unwilling to work 996 hours, enraging the growing viral protest movement.
Given this context, the Global Times probably will not be winning any new fans in India by implying Indians are lazy and should embrace the 996 work plan to catch up with China’s tech sector:
How did China establish its competitiveness in the manufacturing sector during previous decades? This achievement can be partly attributed to the hard-working spirit of Chinese employees in labor-intensive industries, as well as research and development personnel and entrepreneurs.
Many Chinese workers have embraced the “996” culture, while many billionaires in China work even longer hours.
The wave of heated discussion on the “996” culture implies how common the schedule has become in China. But in India, foreign investors often complain about the relatively short working hours and high levels of social welfare enjoyed by local workers.
Adopting the “996” schedule can help India further improve its business environment, attract foreign investment and eventually enhance India’s competitiveness in the manufacturing sector. If inbound manufacturing investment from countries including China can help India produce goods with a high performance-price ratio, India will have a chance to win a victory over the campaign against made-in-China products.
A tough challenge lies ahead of India. Without the “996” schedule and the spirit of hard work, India can hardly catch up with China.
The boycott the Global Times complained about is not an officially-declared trade war, although Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed sympathy for negative “public sentiment on Chinese goods” and praised the “wisdom” of his public in an interview on Tuesday, to the annoyance of Chinese officials.
The boycott is a voluntary campaign by Indian consumers organized by the huge and influential Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT). While CAIT has complained about Chinese trade practices harming Indian industry in the past, the event that actually triggered the boycott was China flexing its United Nations veto power to protect Masood Azhar, founder of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist organization. JeM was the perpetrator in a deadly attack in the Kashmir province in February that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.
China has repeatedly blocked the U.N. from sanctioning Azhar as a terrorist leader. CAIT made common cause with Hindu nationalist groups after the most recent exercise of China’s veto power in March and urged economic retaliation, creating a #BoycottChineseProducts hashtag to promote its message on social media. The hashtag quickly became one of the most popular on Indian Twitter. Some Indians went further than merely refusing to buy Chinese-made items and actually burned them in piles.
“The time has come when China should suffer due to its proximity with Pakistan. 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 industry group declared.
The boycott is not generally regarded as a serious threat to China given the immense volume of Chinese-Indian trade, the billions of dollars Chinese firms invest in Indian companies, and Prime Minister Modi’s political concerns. Beijing must feel supremely confident of its position to authorize state-controlled media to simultaneously antagonize both the Indians and China’s 996 protesters.