China’s deployments of technological assets to the South China Sea may be aiding its efforts to dominate one of the world’s most contested waterways.
Other regional claimant states lack the capabilities to compete with China’s maritime technology, and the U.S. deploys its strategic assets on a non-permanent basis.
China, on the other hand, has deployed radars, drones, and satellites to significantly boost its ability to monitor its “territorial waters” in the South China Sea.
“China can use their technology or use defense to claim that we have strengthened our holding or our control, or administration or even our scientific research in the South China Sea,” Yun Sun, senior associate in the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center, told Voice of America.
“In the long run it is one way that could matter,” she added.
She stressed that while China’s extensive claims to the South China Sea were discredited by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague this past summer, “the Chinese can come up with a list of the equipment they deployed in the region and show that as evidence of sovereignty.”
Chinese deployments also give China the ability to monitor regional activities in a way that other states cannot.
China launched the Gaofen 3 satellite in August 2016 to “play an important role in monitoring the marine environment, islands and reefs, and ships and oil rigs,” the China Daily wrote, citing Xu Fuxiang, the project director.
The satellite “will be very useful in safeguarding the country’s maritime rights and interests,” the report added.
China revealed in September last year that it can now deploy domestically-produced drones to carry out “complicated surveillance” in the South China Sea and around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.
“Reefs and islands are an important parts of our national territory. Precise information of their geology is crucial evidence for the demarcation of territorial waters and for safeguarding national maritime interests and security,” Li Yingcheng, general manager of China TopRS Technology Co. Ltd., an affiliate with the Chinese Academy of Surveying & Mapping, told the People’s Daily.
The report called the drones “especially stealthy.”
China is also working on a defensive wall beneath the waves. At a Chinese underwater robot exhibition in March 2016, China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC), which builds a majority of China’s naval vessels, introduced plans for the construction of an “underwater Great Wall” for anti-submarine warfare purposes.
The project will rely on seabed sensors and unmanned underwater vehicles like the U.S. naval drone recently seized by the Chinese navy in international waters.
“We’re faced here with a very a non-uniform, uneven proliferation of new technologies in the South China Sea,” Collin Koh, a research fellow focusing on maritime security at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, told VOA reporters.
China’s military deployments often receive the most attention; however, the non-military strategic assets appear to also be impacting the situation in the South China Sea.
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