Criticism has always landed on the United States for using military drone. But in the few months that have gone by, a new country has begun to draw this type of attention. Whereas it has not implemented the armed drones in combat, its continued readiness to export the technology to other country has raised eyebrows concerning combat in future.
Early this year, Nigeria informed that the drone it used in fighting Boko Haram was a Chinese-made CH-3. Iraq on the other hand seems to have used CH-4 beginning late 2015. Pakistan on the other hand is suspected to be assembling CH-3, in the midst of reports that the drone may have been produced indigenously. Meanwhile, it is thought that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and UAE have bought similar drones from China.
Why is China venturing into the drone export market? The answer cannot be purely economic. A Wing Loong drone goes for about $1 million each. That means that a lot of drone sales would be needed so as to make a compelling financial case for a country such as China. The sale of arms can be viewed as its diplomatic tool, increasing its presence in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America as it aims at building security relationships.
In addition, China may want to be seen as a force to reckon with by establishing a global network of drone exports that are based on its own military abilities.
The reason matters less especially if a question pertaining how much this will impact the international security environment is raised.
Is the US expected to respond? It would sound hypocritical if the United States chooses to integrate China, considering the enormous criticism against US drone technology. But this still makes one thing clear, it has been the most promiscuous when it comes to drone technology.
In this case of drones, it would be expected that if MTCR and relevant arms control institutes get involved, it would play a huge role in limiting the sale of arms. In 2004, China applied for MTCR membership but was declined after suspicions that it was supplying North Korea with sensitive missile technology.
Ultimately, however China decides to proceed, developments in recent months have already made one thing clear: U.S. drone use may have made the headlines in the last decade, but much of the action in the next 10 years is likely to reside elsewhere.