Chinese companies are using an ingenious trick to navigate the rising anti-China sentiment in India.
Several Chinese manufacturers have switched the “Made in China” label on their products to “Made in PRC,” which makes it harder for a shopper to instantly identify the country of origin. PRC or the People’s Republic of China is the official name of the country.
The change may be minor, but it is proving to be pretty effective. “Customers are consciously checking the labels and seeing if there’s China written on them. But many are unaware of the English abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China, so they end up buying the Chinese product anyway,” Mansingh Dhaundiyal, a 35-year old owner of an electrical shop in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut told Quartz.
Ranjit Sodhi, a 40-year-old owner of an electronic store in Noida near New Delhi, said if his customers ask him what PRC means, he tells them, but he knows of several others who “are taking advantage of the customer’s ignorance and tell them that PRC is a small country in Europe.”
Even on online platforms, such as Amazon, several items now carry the “Made in PRC” tag. However, the e-tailer’s policy to include the country of origin still gives it away.
Amid border tensions between the two countries, Indians have been shunning products made in China for several months now. The impact of the sentiment has been so severe that many Indian retailers have said they are finding it hard to convince customers to buy Chinese products.
Now, some retailers are trying to stock items that have tags reading PRC instead of China to ensure higher sales.
For instance, Dhaundiyal said, while stocking up fairy lights that are very popular around Diwali each year—and are dominated by Chinese manufacturers—he was conscious of not going for the ones that had China on their tag. “There isn’t much variety [of Chinese fairy lights] available in the market anyway due to the supply chain being interrupted because of the virus. But out of whatever is available, shopkeepers are consciously picking the ones with the PRC tag instead of China,” he said.
While the trick may work, for now, experts believe it won’t be successful in the long-run.
“‘China’ is a contentious word in many nations. The ‘Made In PRC’ line will be back-alleyway route till PRC itself becomes controversial which will be soon,” said brand strategy expert Harish Bijoor. “In the current environment, there is no getting away from it for China.”
This change on the tag, in fact, is not a new trick.
The Made in PRC tags had appeared in India in 2017, too, when tension between India and China was at its peak due to the Doklam stand-off, according to Sodhi. “They have done it in the past and they are doing it again,” Sodhi said. And it is working because “consumers do not prefer Indian products as such, but they want to avoid buying a Chinese item.”
Several Chinese brands have in the past used the PRC label to navigate the popular sentiment that products from China are of poor quality.
In 2015, the “Made in PRC” tag had come under the scanner of Japan’s consumer watchdog. According to a January 2015 article in the South China Morning Star:
Japan’s consumer watchdog has said it is powerless to stop Chinese firms stitching labels that read “Made in PRC” in clothing bound for the Japanese market, even though many local consumers do not understand that the acronym means the product was made in China.
Many products that originate in the Peoples’ Republic of China do not have the best of reputations in a country that expects a high degree of quality, but where consumers are increasingly looking to pay less.