Chinese materials indispensible to Indian Army's armor equipment despite boycott campaign
Published: Jul 08, 2020 07:43 PM

Photo: VCG

It may come as a surprise to many that amid the current fanfare of India's "boycott China" campaign and other animosity toward Chinese goods and companies, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh has admitted to the country's parliament that there was "no embargo" on imports of raw materials from China for the manufacturing of protective jackets for the army.

A Global Times investigation involving a military expert, an industry insider and a seller of bulletproof vests has revealed the truth: The Indian armed forces' reliance on Chinese-made materials for bulletproof vests is here to stay. 

It was reported that Chinese materials are used by the majority of existing original equipment manufacturers in India, from which the Indian Army orders protective gear for its personnel - including those stationed in areas bordering China.

Cost-effective materials

Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military analyst, said the news was hardly surprising to those familiar with military hardware, as 70-80 percent of bulletproof jackets (including raw materials) worldwide are made in China in terms of value.

"Bulletproof vests are all about the chemical industry," said Wei. 

"Because Chinese manufacturers are situated within the world's factory for chemical products, they can tap that advantage to keep down the costs of Kevlar, a polyethylene fiber and the backbone material for bulletproof vest-making.

"India cannot really boycott many other Chinese goods and is definitely unable to boycott Chinese-made Kevlar. Even if India decides to import from a third country, [that material] could probably be traced back to plants based in China.

"India could of course procure these types of goods from Western companies. But given their exorbitant prices, the only result of such a switch would be that fewer Indians would be issued with vests."

Zhe Meijie, founder of VSS Security Group, one of China's leading private security companies, said some of the best-quality bulletproof vests are still produced by Western companies, but it is impossible not to consider the cost issue if gear is to be issued on a mass scale. Prices of vests from Chinese producers are less than half of those offered by Western companies.

"The US has the best quality due to its industrial and scientific capacity and the practical need because it is frequently involved in conflicts overseas," said Zhe, who is familiar with different types of vests from a number of countries. 

"Unlike rich Arab oil states that can afford the luxury of buying only the most expensive items on the market for their soldiers, India, as a developing country with a large army to equip, has to choose the most cost-effective items on the market," Zhe said.

Exports return to normal

Even as the clamor to boycott Chinese goods and investment reached a climax in India following the recent border clash, the trade of bulletproof vests continued largely uninterrupted, with exports of vest materials remaining normal for some companies.

A source at an armor protective equipment company based in South China's Guangdong Province told the Global Times on Tuesday that they have been exporting to India for years.

The company sells finished bulletproof vests and fibers used to make protective equipment such as body armor to Indian customers.

Although production data for Kevlar could not be found, China is a major global producer of synthetic fibers. Kevlar, an aramid fiber, is a heat-resistant and strong synthetic fiber.

In 2019, Chinese plants churned out 54.33 million tons of synthetic fibers, an annual increase of 13.2 percent.

However, the pandemic has dented fiber production, which dropped 13.6 percent in January and February, and exports, which dropped 12.33 percent in the same period.

"Though there were some disruptions in business due to the outbreak at the beginning of the year, exports have recovered and are now normal," the manager from the armor protective equipment company in Guangdong, who declined to be named, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

The manager noted that demand from the Indian side remains strong as the products the company offers are competitive in terms of both quality and value for money. The manager did not specify the quantity of orders the company received from India.

"Bulletproof vests are the products of a global industrial power. India's overall industrial capacity, including the skills of its work force, means that the country's self-reliance initiative cannot be applied in the area at present," said Zhe, the security expert.

"Making vests domestically using low-cost, reasonable quality materials imported from China is a natural choice," noted Zhe. "India can afford to outfit its elite troops with the most expensive vests, but that cannot be said for the whole Indian Army." 

Zhao Gancheng, a research fellow at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said it is sheer hypocrisy that the Indian Army, part of the Indian elite class, did not fully follow the country's boycott of Chinese products even as the Indian media called on the masses to do so. 

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