On 21 May, in the wake of a series of border skirmishes between China and India, Chinese electronics major Xiaomi quietly added a new page to its Indian website. Titled ‘Made in India’, the page does its best to paint Xiaomi, the country’s best-selling smartphone brand, as an Indian success story. 

It touts the scale of Xiaomi’s manufacturing in India, the number of Indians it employs, and its Indian investments, including social media platform ShareChat. It goes further still, highlighting the company’s philanthropic activities in the country. These include donations to the families of martyred soldiers and the PMCares fund set up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help fight Covid-19.

And if users weren’t already convinced, Xiaomi goes as far as highlighting its inclusion of Hindu calendars with kundli (horoscope) compatibility and even its India-specific beard trimmers.

Offline, the story isn’t much different. Xiaomi stores across the country have seen their external branding replaced with large Made in India banners, while Manu Kumar Jain, Xiaomi India’s managing director, has gone as far as to say the company is “global” rather than Chinese. 

It isn’t hard to see why the company is trying so hard to change its perception as a Chinese brand. As tensions between India and China escalate—especially after 20 Indian soldiers were killed by Chinese troops in a confrontation on 15 June—calls for a boycott of Chinese goods have reached a fever pitch. There’s scarcely a social media post by Xiaomi that isn’t blemished by calls to boycott the company.

Xiaomi isn’t the only smartphone manufacturer desperate to downplay its roots. Over the past half-decade, Chinese brands have cast their shadow over the Indian smartphone space with their feature-packed yet inexpensive offerings. In India, the top four Chinese brands—Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo, and Realme—sell close to 100 million smartphones, valued at $16 billion. Except Xiaomi, the remaining three remaining three The Ken BBK's strategy to conquer India's smartphone market Read more belong to China’s BBK group.  As of March, around 80% 80% The Economic Times Chinese smartphone brands may lose market share in the next quarter Read more of the Indian smartphone space was controlled by Chinese smartphone companies.

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Realme—a budget-oriented smartphone brand that ranks fifth in India’s smartphone league table—is also looking to protect its hard-won market share.

AUTHOR

Vandana

Vandana is based in Delhi. She covers vertically focussed startups in consumer internet space and also writes on travel tech and smartphones for The Ken. She has spent 13 years in journalism covering a wide range of subjects- equity markets, mutual funds to education and skilling, working at organisations such as Business Standard, CNBC TV18 and The Week in the past.

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