South China Sea crisis: How Beijing is using tracker airships to monitor US military


SOUTH CHINA SEA waters have been the setting for tense tussles between China and the US as President Donald Trump looks to thwart Beijing’s quest for dominance, but it would appear Xi Jinping’s military has responded with a surprising use of technology to track rival warships.

Satellite imagery obtained by ImageSat shows China, seemingly in an effort to defend the contested Spratly Islands from opposing militaries, has deployed light airships to monitor the surrounding waters. The airships were pictured floating above the Mischief reef, forming one of the central areas of political grappling in the Spratly Islands.

The use of these ships has the capacity to provide numerous advantages to China in the region, as their low cost surveillance can alert Beijing’s People’s Liberation Army to foreign presence in the region.

While the airship has been sighted in the South China Sea, much about its capabilities remain unknown, such as the type of sensor it carries.

This represents a big response to US actions in the region, as Washington has also deployed similar devices in areas surrounding waters in the Carribean and southern US.

Last month, the US sent warships into the region as a statement of intent as President Trump comes to the aid of nations disputing China’s Nine Dash-Line claim.

It is also referred to by some as the ’10-dash line’ or ’11-dash line’, and serves as a demarcation for what Beijing believe to be their waters.

As the map shows, the U-shaped marking essentially siphons off the large central part of the sea.

An early map showing a U-shaped 11-dash line was published in the then-Republic of China on 1 November 1947.

The South China Sea is hotly contested because of its lucrative shipping lanes, capacity for military strategic advantages and wealth of natural resources such as oil and minerals.

At the centre of this disagreement are various island clusters such as the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands. China has had particularly tense relations with Vietnam and the Philippines over islands in the region.

China and Vietnam are two countries with especially tense relations, and the two have a long history of violence and fearsome standoffs.

In 1988, 64 Vietnamese soldiers were killed in a conflict with China over the Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea.

In 2014, there was a standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese military, as a Chinese oil rig entered disputed waters where Vietnam had also contested for ownership.
Just last month, a Chinese oil vessel departed Vietnam’s economic exclusion zone after a three-month standoff.

However, this prompted the US to send a patrol ship to Vietnam last week as Washington continues to try and thwart China’s attempts to dominate its Asian neighbours.