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China Seizes, Promises to Return, US Navy Underwater Drone

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Chinese Seize U.S. Navy Underwater Drone in South China Sea

(Source: U.S. Department of Defence; issued Dec 16, 2016)

An unmanned underwater vehicle belonging to the US National Aeronautic and Oceanographic Administration, like the one seized by China. (Twitter photo)

WASHINGTON --- Using appropriate government-to-government channels, the Defense Department has called upon China to immediately return an unmanned underwater vehicle that it unlawfully seized yesterday in the South China Sea, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement today.

Earlier, Pentagon press operations director Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters that a Chinese Navy Dalang-III class submarine rescue vessel launched a small boat and retrieved the UUV as the oceanographic survey ship USNS Bowditch was attempting to retrieve it and a second UUV in the South China Sea.

The incident occurred in international waters about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay Naval Air Station in the Philippines, Davis told reporters.

Calling for International Law Compliance

“The UUV is a sovereign immune vessel of the United States. We call upon China to return our UUV immediately and to comply with all of its obligations under international law," Cook said.

Bridge-to-bridge communications took place between the Bowditch and Chinese ships, but demands to have the UUV returned were ignored, Davis said.

“The USNS Bowditch and the UUV -- an unclassified ‘ocean glider’ system used around the world to gather military oceanographic data such as salinity, water temperature, and sound speed -- were conducting routine operations in accordance with international law,” Cook said.

Chinese Ignored Calls to Return UUV

Davis said the Chinese ignored repeated U.S. calls for them to return the U.S. property. “As [the Chinese ship] went sailing off into distance, [it] said, ‘We are returning to normal operations,’” Davis said.

“We need to find out what the Chinese have to say about it,” he said. “It’s certainly not something we consider to be commensurate with their level as a professional military.”

Davis said the entire incident occurred within a 500-yard area.

“It is ours. It is clearly marked; we’d like to have it back and [would] like this to never happen again,” he said.


China to Hand Over Underwater Drone to U.S. in Appropriate Manner

(Source: Xinhua; issued Dec 18, 2016)

BEIJING --- Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun said late Saturday that China has decided to hand over the U.S. underwater drone it captured in its waters to the United States in an appropriate manner.

According Yang's statement on the website of the defense ministry, on the afternoon of December 15, a Chinese naval lifeboat located an unidentified device in the waters of the South China Sea. In order to prevent the device from causing harm to the safety of navigation and personnel of passing vessels, the Chinese naval lifeboat verified and examined the device in a professional and responsible manner.

Upon examination, Yang said, the device was identified as an underwater drone of the United States. The Chinese side has decided to hand over it to the U.S. in an appropriate manner. Both sides have been maintaining communication on the issue, Yang noted.

The U.S. side's unilateral move to dramatize the issue in the process is inappropriate, and not conductive to its settlement. "We regret that," Yang added.

It is worth emphasizing that for a long time, the U.S. military has frequently dispatched vessels and aircraft to carry out close-in reconnaissance and military surveys within Chinese waters, Yang said. "China resolutely opposes these activities, and demands that the U.S. side should stop such activities. China will continue to be vigilant against the relevant activities on the U.S. side, and will take necessary measures in response," said the spokesperson.


China Agrees to Return U.S. Naval Drone, Trump Says Beijing Can Keep it

(Source: Radio Free Europe; issued Dec 18, 2016)

The Pentagon says it has "secured an understanding" with Beijing that it will return a U.S. Navy underwater drone seized in the South China Sea.

The seizure of the submersible on December 16 sparked a row between Washington and Beijing that drew in U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who said China stole the craft and can keep it.

The United States said the unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) was being used to carry out scientific research in international waters near the Philippines when it was seized.

Washington said it issued a formal diplomatic complaint, demanded its immediate return, and warned China not to repeat such a move in the future.

But Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said later on December 17 that China agreed to return the drone. "Through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United States," Cook said.

The Chinese Defense Ministry said the craft, which it said was retrieved and examined to maintain the safety of passing vessels, would be returned in an "appropriate manner," without saying when this might happen.

The ministry also accused the United States of "hyping up" the incident, calling its response "inappropriate and unhelpful."

The United States has "frequently" sent its vessels and aircrafts into the region, it added, urging such activities to stop.

Meanwhile, Trump slammed the Chinese Navy's capture of the drone.

"China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters -- rips it out of water and takes it to China in [unprecedented] act," Trump said in a message on Twitter on December 17.

"We should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back -- let them keep it!" the president-elect said in a follow-up message.

Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the seizure "a remarkably brazen violation of international law."

Senior Republican Senator John McCain said the United States should not tolerate "such outrageous conduct," which he said will "continue until it is met with a strong and determined U.S. response."

The dispute has frayed already tense relations between Washington and Beijing at a time when China has been building up its military maritime outposts in the South China Sea.

China claims that most of the South China Sea is its own territorial waters -- a position that has led to maritime territorial disputes with Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Indonesia.

Trump had already angered China by speaking on the phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on December 2, breaking a long-standing U.S. practice on the China-Taiwan dispute.

Trump also has said he does not feel "bound by a one-China policy" regarding the status of Taiwan, unless the United States gains trade or other benefits from Beijing.