China rebukes drone reports

Updated: 2013-09-25 02:04

By ZHANG YUNBI and WU JIAO (China Daily)

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei called reports that China is attempting to steal military drone technology from the United States "groundless" on Tuesday.

Competition between the two countries over the development of drone technology has been the focus of the media's attention in recent days. The New York Times said on Saturday that "hackers based in Shanghai went after one foreign defense contractor after another" for almost two years. A US cybersecurity company told the newspaper the Shanghai hackers were after "the technology behind the clear US lead in military drones".

On Sept 9, Japanese media reported that Tokyo sent fighter planes after an unidentified drone approaching Japan above the East China Sea. The drone, according to Japanese reports, was at one point in close proximity to China's Diaoyu Islands.

Unmanned aircraft have been put into widespread use around China for military reconnaissance, geological surveys and disaster relief. But Chinese analysts said the US is ramping up pressure on China to gain the upper hand in the development and trade of military drones.

Ding Hao, a senior researcher at the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Science, said it's common for Washington to tarnish China's image with accusations of technology theft.

"In the eyes of Washington, China also stole technologies regarding nuclear submarines," Ding said.

Yang Jian, vice-president of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said the US has failed to shed its Cold War mentality.

The US is the leading developer of drones, but international powers such as China, Russia and countries in Europe are also working to develop their own drone technologies.

An October report by the Defense Science Board for the US Department of Defense said "the military significance of China's move into unmanned systems is alarming", suggesting that Beijing might "easily match or outpace US spending on unmanned systems, rapidly close the technology gaps and become a formidable global competitor in unmanned systems".

Ding said Washington is feeling threatened by Beijing because it believes China is expanding its maritime presence in the Pacific Ocean and challenging the US in the region.

Du Wenlong, a senior researcher at the PLA's Academy of Military Science, said the US has spared no effort in lobbying the Japanese to buy the Global Hawk unmanned high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft mainly because of its own global military strategy.

"The drones will be the eyes of not only Japan but also the US in the region," Du said.

As a high-profile buyer of US drones, the Japanese Defense Ministry is considering deploying the expensive and top-of-the-line unmanned aircraft, which were used by the US military, as early as fiscal year 2015, the Japan Times reported recently.

Experts said China's drones are far from being a real threat to the US' drone development program. The overall level of China's unmanned aircraft technologies still lags "15 to 20 years" behind Western countries, China National Radio reported.

Zhang Fan contributed to this story.