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India's satellite deal with China's Oppo raises security alarms

Parliamentarians and spies harpoon government for overlooking security threat

India launches GSAT-18 satellite. 

India launches GSAT-18 satellite.  (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A new deal between India’s space agency and China’s Oppo has raised security concerns as China continues to erode India’s control of its territory in the Himalayas.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was announced by Oppo India (a local subsidiary of the Chinese parent company) on Friday (Dec. 10). The deal aims to develop a national NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation) messaging service.

Oppo will use this NavIC system in future models of its phones that will be sold throughout India. While the technical details have not been disclosed, experts believe Oppo will be able to access user data generated by the national system, according to a report by India’s SundayGuardian.

New Delhi set up NavIC as an autonomous regional sat nav system in 2013 to avoid repeating what the Indian military faced during a border conflict with Pakistan in 1999, when its request to access global satellite systems was denied by foreign governments. Despite this background, India’s space agency seems quite content to allow a Chinese tech giant to get involved in the project, even as the People's Liberation Army (PLA) continues to erode India’s control of its borders in the Himalayan region.

The Modi government banned TikTok and up to 58 other Chinese apps in January last year on security grounds. In May this year, the country’s telecom ministry left China’s Huawei and ZTE out of 5G trials.

Concerned Indian lawmakers have been quick to point out the new MoU’s inconsistency with national security policy:

“It amazes me no end that on one hand we as a nation are trying to fend them (China) 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,” Priyanka Chaturvedi, a parliamentarian, tweeted.

“On the one hand, China is illegally annexing Indian territory,” tweeted opposition party spokesperson Dr. Shama Mohamed," while on the other hand, ISRO (India’s space agency) "ties up with Chinese mobile manufacturer Oppo for tech R&D!”

“This is ridiculous. The bureaucrats should have looked into it and intervened,” an anonymous intelligence officer told the SundayGuardian.