The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has agreed to swap technical details of its satellite-based messaging service with Chinese smartphone maker OPPO, drawing criticism from politicians
Tensions between India and China have run high in 2021, following on from border clashes in the summer of 2020 that left numerous soldiers dead. By January 2021, India had permanently banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, and introduced various measures to safeguard the country’s national infrastructure from Chinese investments.
But now, despite these tensions, it appears that the ISRO has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Chinese smartphone maker OPPO’s Indian unit that will enable the latter’s integration with the Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC) satellite-based navigational system used by messaging services and mobile phone users.
NavIC typically provides positional, navigation and timing (PNT) services across India and up to 1,500km beyond its borders. However, it can also broadcast short messages, such as sending safety warnings to areas lacking traditional connectivity.
As part of the MoU, OPPO India could incorporate NavIC into all of its upcoming handsets.
But while the ISRO and OPPO were both enthusiastic about the partnership, the political reception to the move has been poor, with numerous politicians condemning the partnership and questioning its impact on national security.
“It amazes me to no end that on one hand, we as a nation are trying to fend them off the border, reduce their exposure to Indian markets and yet important arms of India and national security continue to be oblivious to the threat,” tweeted Priyanka Chaturvedi, leader of the Shiv Sena party.
This is not the first time that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has come under fire for its handling of China and the telecommunications sector.
Back in 2020, for example, when countries like the UK were banning Huawei equipment from their upcoming 5G networks, largely as a result of a US campaign based on national security fears, India instead chose to quietly side-line the Chinese company, excluding them from the country’s 5G trials rather than banning them outright.
Indeed, Modi’s approach to China has been characterised by numerous incentives and disincentives to influence China’s conduct, but little in the way of concrete action. The motivations for this are clear enough – China’s political and economic might, situated right on India’s doorstep, is hard to ignore. Bilateral trade between the two nations this year exceeded $100 billion and, especially in a coronavirus stricken economy, outright antagonism is a hard path to follow.
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