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Shenzhen drone maker helps Chinese army keep tabs on ‘foreign force’, praises workers

A Shenzhen drone maker has commended two employees for supporting Chinese troops on the ground during last year’s Himalayan border clash with India, giving a rare glimpse into how the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is using technology services from private companies to boost its capabilities.

Shenzhen Keweitai Enterprise Development Corp, which sells drones under the brand All Tech, published an article on its official WeChat account on Thursday, saying the company is very proud of its role in helping the Chinese army during the border clash. It then singled out what it called the brave actions of two employees at the conflict site.

According to the post, which was taken down on Friday but widely republished by other Chinese social media and news portals, Zhao Bo and Shi Zhilong supported the Chinese army in its surveillance of “illegal activities by the foreign force”.

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While helping the military handle the company’s drones in Galwan Valley, 5,000 metres (16,000 feet) above sea level, Zhao and Shi aided the PLA’s medical teams in tending to the wounded and “helped with cooking” for the troops when field kitchens were short-handed, Keweitai said its post.

Shi suffered from serious altitude sickness and lost 11kg (24lbs) during the process, according to the company, while Zhao suffered an accidental fracture in his left foot and a sprained right hand. Both said they were proud of their deeds.

“The environment at that time was bad, and it was impossible to get in touch with the outside,” Zhao said, according to the post. “Only by flying the drone well and scouting every corner could I offer more help.”

Shi said he was proud to have made a small contribution to his country’s efforts despite the “hard and life-threatening” conditions.

The company confirmed the events to the South China Morning Post, but it declined to provide further details.

The public commendation came a week after China revealed new video recordings from the conflict and issued a report saying four PLA soldiers had been killed and one seriously wounded during a bloody hand-to-hand battle with Indian troops along the disputed border last June.

Similar to Keweitai’s treatment of its two employees, state media outlets lauded the soldiers in the videos for their loyalty and sacrifice. The PLA also described them as heroes and blamed India for the casualties.

India and China have both blamed each other for the conflict, each accusing the other of crossing the Line of Actual Control, an unmarked border separating controlled territories in the disputed area.

India said it lost 20 soldiers during the conflict and claimed China lost twice as many, which China denied. Last week’s report was the first time the Chinese government put a number on its casualties.

In recent years, China has become a world leader in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and Shenzhen has become a hub for drone makers, including DJI, the world’s largest drone brand.

Keweitai, established in 1997, makes enterprise drones, anti-drone devices and video transmission systems. The company’s website lists border inspection and anti-terrorism activities among its main application areas.

It also specifies that the company helps border personnel with air surveillance and supply delivery in Tibet and Xinjiang, the far western region of China where the government’s purported anti-terrorism efforts have drawn global scrutiny and criticism.

The United Nations estimates that about 1 million Uygur and other Muslim minority citizens are being held against their will in so-called re-education camps in the region.

Drones are now being used widely across industries such as agriculture, logistics and content production. They are also becoming increasingly important to the military.

China’s coastguard, for example, could use cheap and advanced unmanned systems to defend contested seas, according to a recent report from China’s Naval Research Academy and Northwestern Polytechnic University’s School of Marine Science and Technology.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2021 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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