Copying Washington's 'decoupling' won't promote India's drone ambitions
Published: Aug 09, 2023 09:34 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

India has banned domestic military drone-makers from using Chinese-made components in recent months, citing so-called security concerns, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

By overstretching the concept of national security, India is actually "decoupling and breaking industrial chains." India's practice of undercutting the business of Chinese drone companies in its market, under the guise of security concerns, is precisely what the US is doing. Among moves to crack down on China's drone industry, the US Congress in 2019 banned the Pentagon from buying or using drones and components made in China.

It's no secret that India aims to become the world's drone manufacturing hub. The South Asian country is moving step-by-step to reduce imports of drones and related components and boost domestic drone manufacturing. However, it is an unwise tactic to copy the US' textbook in "decoupling from China."

In order to support the development of the domestic drone industry, India has adopted regulations including production-linked incentives. In February 2022, the Indian government announced a ban on the import of drones, except for defense, security and research purposes. If the Reuters report is accurate, it is undoubtedly a targeted restrictive measure on Chinese drone components.

In undercutting the business of Chinese drone companies in the Indian market, the move clearly shows the intention of politically collaborating with the so-called "Indo-Pacific Strategy" of the US, with the purpose of targeting China's drone manufacturing industry.

The US has long sought to win over India to contain China. The US has been promoting decoupling and breaking industry chains, aiming to build an industrial ecosystem that excludes China. But such an attempt just can't work. India may want to use this trend to boost its manufacturing industry, but it will be difficult to realize its goal. China's status as a global manufacturing center will not be shaken. In the global supply chain and value chain cooperation, China is still upgrading despite US attempts at disruption.

India imports many core components and intermediate products from China, mainly engaged in assembly. Now it is unrealistic for India to replace China's position as a global manufacturing center and rush to make its own core components. Although India has sought to build its own drone capabilities through subsidies in recent years, progress has not been promising. Indian drones are highly dependent on foreign manufacturers for components and systems.

Moreover, India will face heavy costs if it decides to collaborate with the US to decouple from China and crack down on China's drone industry. The Indian government's ban on Chinese-made drone components has caused difficulties for Indian manufacturers and the military. An Indian military drone supplier complained that 70 percent of the products in the drone supply chain are made in China, and the ban will greatly increase the manufacturing cost of Indian military drones, according to Reuters.

A ban on Chinese drone components would force manufacturers to source components elsewhere, raising the cost of locally made military drones. China is the world's largest exporter of drones, and it is difficult for India to avoid purchasing Chinese components. If India wants to undercut the business of Chinese drone companies, it will inevitably push up the prices of related products significantly.

A similar ban has been adopted in many industries in India. Citing "security concerns," India has imposed restrictions on telecommunication equipment, apps and electric power-generating equipment, but experience shows that "decoupling" will not solve India's manufacturing problems.

The US has overstretched its national security claims and continued to abuse export controls and other measures to suppress foreign companies, institutions and individuals. This tactic has caused serious damage to the international economic and trade order and free trade rules, and it poses a serious threat to the security of global industrial and supply chains. This is bad for the US itself, as well as China, India and other economies.

On the contrary, China's mutually beneficial cooperation can help India develop its manufacturing industry. Only by abandoning geopolitics, pan-security and the attempt to decouple and break chains, can India realize its drone ambitions. The current wrong approach will only lead it further away from the goal.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.