China has developed a satellite positioning chip to pinpoint the location of firearms and trigger an alert when guns are taken out of designated areas, according to a Chinese hi-tech firm.

Beijing Bailineng Technology, the developer of the technology, said in Beijing that the chips used China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System to send real-time location data back to a control centre.

Authorised handlers of the weapons would also be issued with BeiDou watches to send alerts if they are separated from their firearm, with the aim of stopping the weapons falling into the hands of criminals.

“At the moment the accuracy of positioning is about 3 metres,” Ge Chunsheng, a company spokesman, said at a defence equipment fair which ended on Thursday.

“The chips are built in inside, can’t be seen from the outside and very difficult to remove … without damaging the gun.”

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But the system was already in use in various People’s Liberation Army units in Beijing and Nanjing, he said.

The announcement comes a decade after serial killer Zhou Kehua murdered a PLA soldier and stole his automatic rifle before going on a bank-robbing spree that left 11 people dead in various provinces.

Zhou was China’s most wanted fugitive until he was shot dead by police in 2012.

China has strict gun control regulations banning civilians from owning firearms. Only the military, police and some specific personnel such as armed transport crews can legally possess firearms.

Previous gun-tracking systems relied on the US-owned and operated Global Positioning System (GPS).

But China hopes the BeiDou system, set to be completed in 2020, will be able to replace GPS in China and compete with it globally.

China adds new satellite to its Beidou network that aims to rival US global positioning systemBeiDou was developed for military use but also has civilian applications. It began to cover parts of China in 2000, and launched a basic global service in December 2018.

The Chinese government has ordered all of its buses, heavy trucks and fishing boats to install BeiDou technology for real-time monitoring and tracking. As of 2017, 22 million vehicles and 50,000 vessels had been equipped with BeiDou terminals.