Beijing is using underwater drones in the South China Sea to show off its might

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The world’s second-largest economy has been deploying disruptive technology that could strengthen its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.
 
Late last month, Beijing dropped a dozen underwater drones, also known as unmanned underwater vehicles, in an unspecified location in the international waterway to carry out “scientific observations,” state-run media outlet Xinhua reported.
 
A U.S. Navy MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter from the “Blue Hawks” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 78 fires chaff flares during a training exercise near the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the Philippine Sea April 24, 2017.
Sean M. Castellano | US Navy | Reuters
A U.S. Navy MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter from the “Blue Hawks” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 78 fires chaff flares during a training exercise near the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the Philippine Sea April 24, 2017.
The torpedo-shaped vehicles — called Haiyi, or sea wings in Mandarin — will remain underwater for a month, according to reports. In March, one device hit a depth of 6,329 meters, breaking an earlier record held by a U.S. vessel, Xinhua said.
 
China claims a massive section of the South China Sea that extends roughly 1,000 miles from its southern shores. The huge area is home to significant energy deposits and the world’s busiest shipping routes, but Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also assert sovereign rights over parts of the international waterway.
 
The use of autonomous drones raises a number of questions as to whether Beijing is deploying the technology to support its aggressive expansion in the geopolitical hotspot.
 
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