DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — High above Yemen’s rebel-held city of Hodeida, a drone controlled by Emirati forces hovered as an SUV carrying a top Shiite Houthi rebel official turned onto a small street and stopped, waiting for another vehicle in its convoy to catch up.
Seconds later, the SUV exploded in flames, killing Saleh al-Samad, a top political figure.
The drone that fired that missile in April was not one of the many American aircraft that have been buzzing across the skies of Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001. It was Chinese.
Across the Middle East, countries locked out of purchasing U.S.-made drones due to rules over excessive civilian casualties are being wooed by Chinese arms dealers, who are world’s main distributor of armed drones.
“The Chinese product now doesn’t lack technology, it only lacks market share,” said Song Zhongping, a Chinese military analyst and former lecturer at the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force University of Engineering. “And the United States restricting its arms exports is precisely what gives China a great opportunity.”
The sales are helping expand Chinese influence across a region vital to American security interests.
“It’s a hedging strategy and the Chinese will look to benefit from that,” said Douglas Barrie, an airpower specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “I think the Chinese are far less liable to be swayed by concerns over civilian casualties,” he said.