An Indian navigation satellite is launched from Satish Dhawan Space Center. Photo; ISRO

JAIPUR An agreement between India’s space agency to swap technical details of its satellite-based messaging service with Chinese smartphone maker OPPO has provoked a backlash, underscoring the delicate state of bilateral relations.

A memorandum of understanding reached between the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and OPPO’s Indian branch, OPPO India, will enable China’s integration with the Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC) satellite-based navigational system used by messaging services and mobile phone users.

NavIC’s main job is providing position, navigation and timing (PNT) services but it can also broadcast short messages. This service is used to send safety warnings to areas with poor communications, particularly in maritime areas. NavIC provides regional navigation services covering the Indian mainland and up to 1500 kilometers beyond.

OPPO India, for its part, was upbeat about the collaboration.

“This will pave the way for future collaborations between ISRO and OPPO India to develop indigenous solutions by incorporating the NavIC short messaging feature in the smartphones released by OPPO India,” it said.

Indian soldiers cross a river in June 2020 during an incident where Chinese and Indian troops clashed in the Galwan Valley. Photo: AFP / CCTV

Dr K Sivan, ISRO chairman and Secretary of the Department of Space, was also enthusiastic and urged OPPO India to include NavIC in all their upcoming products.

The political reaction has been much frostier, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government under fire from the opposition and experts who rung security alarm bells.

Feelings in India are still running high after border clashes in Galwan Valley in June 2020. India retaliated by banning more than 260 Chinese apps, including the popular TikTok, Shien and CamScanner.

Opposition Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi tweeted, “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.”

Mallikarjun Kharge, a senior Congress leader and leader of the opposition in the upper house or Rajya Sabha tweeted, “ISRO has inked R&D pact with Oppo, a Chinese company, which will now be able to access data collected by ISRO.

“Does this not compromise national security? Why is the Modi govt allowing it? It is proved yet again, BJP = Beijing Janata Party.”

Author and commentator Brahma Chellaney tweeted, “Despite the imperative to create incentives and disincentives to influence China’s conduct, Modi has shied away from substantive action.

“As if to mock his ban on Chinese mobile apps, space agency ISRO has now teamed up with China’s Oppo to market its new mobile messaging service.”

In another tweet, Chellaney said, “At a time when China has conducted nuclear warfare drills in Tibet while engaged in border aggression, how does the Modi government explain extending support to the Beijing Winter Olympics (dubbed “Genocide Games”) and allowing space agency ISRO to tie up commercially with Oppo?”

India’s NavIC messaging service will run on OPPO handsets. Photo: OPPO

The opposition Indian National Congress party has also weighed in on the gathering controversy.

“China is setting up village after village on our land and the government has been mum. Why?” spokesperson Gourav Vallabh party said.

Fellow spokesperson Shama Mohamed tweeted, “On the one hand, China is illegally annexing Indian territory & on the other, ISRO ties up with Chinese mobile manufacturer Oppo for tech R&D! Shocking! #modinomics.”