> our title:

China’s UUV Seizure Was About Undersea Dominance

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China’s UUV Seizure Was About Undersea Dominance (excerpt)

(Source: British-American Security Information Council; issued Jan 04, 2017)

As the USNS Bowditch was recovering a UUV (unmanned underwater vehicle, or underwater drone) in the South China Sea on 15th December, a light-fingered Chinese Navy salvage ship reportedly called Naniju swooped in and took it in spite of repeated bridge-to-bridge demands to return the craft. Whilst this may have involved an early challenge to Trump, it is more likely to be connected with an emerging strategic battle over control of the undersea environment.

Immediately after the event, the US accused China of an ‘unlawful seizure’, and China later agreed to return the drone through ‘appropriate channels’ –– though not before President-elect Donald Trump had accused China of an ‘unpresidented [sic.] act,’ adding, ‘we don't want the drone they stole back - let them keep it!’, in what is one of the most serious confrontations yet between the future US President and China.

Early interpretations of the event

When the story first broke on Friday, it wasn’t clear what kind of UUV had been pilfered, and I suggested that China might be hoping to reverse engineer an advanced US military drone it to bolster its own, more primitive UUV programme. After it was revealed that it was a commercially available glider costing only $150,000, this theory seems much less likely.

However, what we don’t know – and I don’t imagine the Chinese crew would have known either – is whether the UUV they picked up had been fitted out with any additional components that might provide them with useful intelligence.

It was also not known on Friday precisely where the event took place, and many of us suggested that the act was a means of symbolically demonstrating China’s sovereignty over the seas that China claims within its proposed ‘Nine Dash Line’ - its claim to territorial waters.

In such an instance, the legality of the act might have been down to a conflicting interpretation about whether or not it was operating in international waters, although the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague has made it clear that the waters are not China’s.

Yet, it later emerged that the UUV was seized just off the coast of the Philippines, outside of boundaries of the Nine Dash Line. According to Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law Julian Ku, this means that ‘unless there are new facts to be disclosed […] there is simply no plausible international legal basis for China’s action.’

While China might still be signalling about sovereignty, it’s not particularly clear or effective, and it suggests that some other motive might be at work. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full story, on the BASIC website.