News / Asia

China Drone Threat Highlights New Global Arms Race

The Yilong and Xianglong, two Chinese drone models.
The Yilong and Xianglong, two Chinese drone models.
China's acknowledgment earlier this week that it considered using a drone strike on foreign soil to target a major Burmese drug trafficker wanted in the killings of 13 Chinese sailors highlights Beijing's increasing capacity in unmanned aerial warfare.  It also foreshadows the dangers of a burgeoning global drone race.

Liu Yuejin, director of the Public Security Ministry's anti-drug bureau, told the state-run Global Times newspaper Monday the plan called for bombing drug lord Naw Kham's mountain hideout in northeastern Burma using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to end a months-long manhunt.

China's top drug czar told the newspaper the drone strike option was eventually passed over to try to capture Naw Kham alive, which finally occurred last April in a joint Chinese-Laotian operation. But his comments reveal that China is weighing targeted killings seriously.

Beijing is becoming more willing to project power outside China, moving away from its previous policy of non-interference in international affairs, according to Peter Dutton, director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College.

"This is a new change.  This is China behaving more actively in the international sphere to protect its interests beyond its borders than it had in the past," Dutton said.  

Previously, China would have insisted that such interventions "either [take place] in international waters, or have United Nations approval," he said.

Legal ambiguity

For years, the United States, Israel and Britain have dominated the global drone market, and the U.S. is known to have launched armed UAV strikes against foreign targets.

But China has vastly improved its technology of late, unveiling large numbers of new drone models at recent air shows and modernizing its global navigation system, Beidou, to compete with the U.S. Global Positioning System as well as Russian and EU rivals.

The Obama administration has justified drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia by claiming those governments were "unwilling or unable to suppress the threat posed by the individual being targeted," according to a recently leaked Justice Department memo.  The leaked "white paper" outlines legal arguments for using drone aircraft to target and kill American citizens abroad who are considered terrorists.

American University Law Professor Stephen Vladeck says Washington needs to be much more specific about its criteria for using armed UAVs, because China and other countries are paying close attention.

"Part of the problem is that because the U.S. government is engaged in what seems like so many drone strikes, and has not exactly been forthcoming about the criteria it uses, it's possible for countries like China to point at the U.S. example and say, 'if they're doing it, so can we,'" Vladeck said.

Proliferation and demand

Another issue is proliferation and skyrocketing demand.  While the United States has traditionally exported unmanned drones to only a few of its closest allies, Chinese companies are now seen as an increasingly reliable and cheap supplier.

Dozens of countries have bought or built their own UAVs, primarily for surveillance, and military planners see them as extremely effective, both for reconnaissance and as weaponized attack vehicles.

"The problem is that this technology is becoming so widely available and so cheap, that I think it is only a matter of time before countries with far smaller militaries, countries with far less responsible regimes, are in a position where they want to use these technologies as well," Vladeck said.

American military contractors have been lobbying the government to loosen export restrictions and tap into foreign markets for unmanned aircraft.

In 2010, U.S.-based General Atomics received approval to sell early, unarmed versions of the Predator drone to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries in the Middle East and Latin America.

Top drone exporter Israel has sold its aircraft to a variety of countries, including Nigeria, India and Russia.

Regional tension

One of the Chinese drones unveiled at the annual Zhuhai air show in November has a range of more than 3,200 kilometers, and the Japanese military recently documented an unmanned vehicle flying near some Chinese naval vessels on a training exercise near Okinawa.

With tensions heating up between the two countries over disputed islands in the South China Sea, Japanese media reports have indicated the new government in Tokyo wants to purchase a small number of advanced U.S. Global Hawk high-altitude surveillance drones.

While both sides claim the unmanned aircraft will be used for reconnaissance, experts warn adding armaments is relatively easy, and the possibility for regional drone clashes cannot be discounted.

Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

You May Like

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
February 23, 2013 12:18 AM
go China go!


by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
February 22, 2013 2:03 PM
The technology of warfare has increased the possibility of fights between UAV's and drones instead of manned fighter jets, to reduce the loss of lives and the cost.


by: CS from: LA
February 22, 2013 2:23 AM
It is fair for China to protect its interests outside or inside its territory, in terms of legal aspect. Coz' the US, a living sample, has been doing so during the past decade. So who is to blamed ?


by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
February 21, 2013 11:07 PM
Naw Kham, is probably long gone; advertising that the drug lord will be hit? really does not make any sense.
And the pterodactyl, looks very much like the US drone..copyrights/patent infringements??? It must be part of the internet bounty!
And as far as having China or any one else adhere to a US like drone operational legal framework = utopia.

In Response

by: Peter from: USA
February 23, 2013 12:29 PM
He was arrested by a joint Cambodian and Chinese military forces and sentenced to death already. This article is talking about before he was arrested, China considered using a drone strike to kill him.


by: Samurai from: Japan
February 21, 2013 10:09 PM
What on the earth is PRC thinking about? Do Chinese really want to contest with USA and Westerners? What PRC government has to do now is to protect its nationals against air pollution, which leads many of its nationals to direst distress, to give freedom of speech, and even to feed food to its poor nationals. Never waste precious money in arms race.

In Response

by: Peter from: USA
February 23, 2013 12:31 PM
How about protecting its citizens from drug lords like this guy? So yes, everything is necessary, whether pollution or trade or border safety or national interests.

In Response

by: Ben from: China
February 22, 2013 9:46 PM
No power,no future.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid