China to deploy drones in South China Sea to conduct surveillance over disputed waters

By Jonathan Davis

China is continuing to expand its influence over a wider swath of the South China Sea as Beijing begins to deploy additional surveillance drones to keep watch over disputed waters.

According to reports, China’s Ministry of Natural Resources will begin launching a new surveillance drone to serve as a compliment to Beijing’s existing satellite surveillance capabilities.

At the same time, China continues to claim possession over most of the South China Sea while planning to make additional investments in satellite surveillance coverage in the coming years.

Hainan, which is Beijing’s new satellite constellation, will soon feature 10 satellites replete with optical and radar packages that will allow the military to focus on nearly all of the region.

In addition, according to the UK’s Express, Chinese officials have removed references to the region in a resolution among its neighbors that promotes freedom of navigation throughout the South China Sea.

“The document was changed at the last minute during the summit in Canberra, Australia, signifying China’s determination to gain complete control over contested waters,” the website reported, citing the Australia-based Sydney Morning Herald.

Initially, Japanese officials proposed a draft of the resolution that freedom of navigation provided countries with critical access to lucrative shipping lanes. The Japanese also argued that airspace should remain open and uncontested.

The document recognized the benefits of “a sea of peace, stability and prosperity” and expressed concerns about “land reclamations, activities and serious incidents in the South China Sea, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security stability in the region.

Eventually, all parties agreed on the resolution which contained no references to the South China Sea.

An expert described the Chinese demand as “disturbing”, and highlighted that other nation’s compromise to Beijing’s demands sets a worrying precedent, The Express reported.

China began deploying drones to the region last fall, as Business Insider reported in September:

China is fielding a far-reaching reconnaissance system reliant on drones to strengthen its ability to conduct surveillance operations in hard-to-reach areas of the South China Sea, the Ministry of Natural Resources said in a report Tuesday.

The system, which relies on drones connected to mobile and fixed command-and-control centers by way of a maritime information and communication network, stands to boost Chinese information, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities over what was previously provided by satellites and regional monitoring stations.

The highly maneuverable drones can purportedly provide high-definition images and videos in real time they fly below the clouds, which have, at times, hindered China’s satellite surveillance efforts.

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