Indonesia deserves transparency on Chinese research drones
[ByÂ Taufik Rachmat Nugraha]
According to the Indonesian Ocean Justice Initiative, between 2018 and January 2021, a large number of Chinese ships ‘deactivated’ their AIS transponders – the automatic identification systems used to track ships at sea – and embarked on illegal marine scientific research while sailing in Indonesian waters. . Chinese ships even released unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), some of these drones apparently malfunctioning and later discovered by locals while fishing.
As the largest archipelagic country in the world with rich marine biodiversity, Indonesian waters have always attracted a large number of countries for scientific research. But China’s activity has raised concern among the Indonesian public, and underwater drones are a glimpse of activity that otherwise would go undetected under Indonesian waters.
A fisherman from Selayar Island in South Sulawesi found a UUV:
Wingspan: 50 cm
Trailing antenna: 93 cm
Very similar to the Chinese “Sea Wing” UUV, which, if true, raised many questions, including how it managed to find itself deep in our territory. pic.twitter.com/RAiX8Xw2BK
– JATOSINT (@Jatosint) December 29, 2020
The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) makes no reference to UUV operations for marine scientific research, although the use of underwater drones is recognized in guidelines published in 2010 by the Division. United Nations maritime affairs and law. the sea, Office of Legal Affairs. UNCLOS requires that a âconsent regimeâ be obtained for any third country wishing to conduct marine research in the territorial waters, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of a coastal state.
Unfortunately, neither the UNCLOS nor the guidelines distinguish marine research by civilians or the military.
Besides scientific applications, UUVs are widely used by the military. Underwater drones are capable of reaching places otherwise inaccessible were a human on board, and UUVs are capable of conducting reconnaissance and carrying weapons.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA-N) wants to develop UUV technology. China is committed to modernizing its naval equipment through automation research, analysts assessing the potential use of UUVs in investigation and reconnaissance, submarine cable inspection, mine warfare and countermeasures, and potentially anti-submarine missions.
With tensions in the South China Sea over competing land claims, the potential for UUVs to become a trigger for a wider conflagration cannot be ruled out. Already in 2016, the PLA-N illegally seized a USNS Bowditch UUV in international waters northwest of Subic Bay, Philippines, alleging that the US Navy was conducting a reconnaissance of China’s maritime activities. The United States has said it is conducting a military investigation in international waters, not Chinese waters, which is permitted under UNCLOS and subsequent guidelines.
The Indonesian authorities are right to be alarmed about the presence of Chinese UUVs in Indonesian waters. Indonesia’s geopolitical position is crucial for maritime security in the region. With the added focus on submarines in recent times – the recent announcements by UKUS in favor of Australia for obtaining nuclear propulsion technology as an example – Indonesia must be wary of the potential for rivalry. regions flowing into its waters.
Article 19 of UNCLOS specifies that ships carrying out marine scientific research are not considered to be passing innocently. Such a provision could be extended to equipment, including UUVs, recognizing that Article 258 specifies that “the deployment and use of any type of scientific research facility or equipment in any area of ââthe marine environment” are also subject to the convention. The word “equipment” could be interpreted as UUVs deployed by research vessels – although this will continue to be debated.
Better regulation is needed. UUVs are a revolutionary tool that is revolutionizing our understanding of the marine environment. For Indonesia in particular, as a country of thousands of islands, the use of UVUs is essential for science and security. It is in Indonesia’s interest to promote the regulation of UUV operations for scientific purposes and to see other countries cooperate in this regard.
To protect Indonesian waters from intrusive UUV activities, Indonesian authorities should also regulate all UUV operations in the country’s waters, whether of a scientific or military nature. No country should be affected by this need for transparency.
Taufik Rachmat Nugraha works as a Research Fellow focusing on Space Law and the Law of the Sea at the Indonesian Center for the Law of the Sea (ICLOS), Faculty of Law, Universitas Padjadjaran, Indonesia.
This article is courtesy of The Lowy Interpreter and can be found in its original form here.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.