New York: President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that China’s capture of a US Navy drone was an unprecedented act, as China finally agreed to return the vessel to the US.
China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 17, 2016
The drone deployed by a US vessel in international waters in South China Sea, roughly 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay off the Philippines, was conducting a military survey. A Chinese warship seized the underwater drone just as the USNS Bowditch, an oceanographic survey ship, was about to retrieve the unmanned, underwater vehicle (UUV), officials said.
“It’s a sovereign immune vessel, clearly marked in English not to be removed from the water – that it was U.S. property,” an official said.
In a briefing on the matter, Pentagon confirmed the incident and said that the drone used commercially available technology priced at $150,000. Its job was to collect oceanographic data including salinity, temperature and clarity of the water which are meant to help US military sonar data.
The USNS Bowditch, crewed by civilians that carries out oceanographic work, had already retrieved 1 of its drones known as ocean gliders, when a Chinese Dalang 3 class vessel took the second one.
Officials say that the Bowditch was only 500 meters from the drone when the later was picked up by the Chinese vessel. Using bridge-to-bridge communications the US ship demanded the drone back but the Chinese vessel, while acknowledging the communication, did not respond to the demands of USNS Bowditch.
Chinese officials have now agreed to return the vessel after negotiating with the US. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement, “through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United States”.
However China’s Defense Ministry said it was “resolutely opposed” to this kind of activity, and accused the US of “hyping up” the incident.
This report of drone-capturing comes amid reports of China’s increased military activities in the South China Sea. A US think tank has said that China has installed antiaircraft and antimissile systems on man-made islands it has been constructing around the Spratly Islands.
Earlier, president-elect Trump had taken a stance opposing China’s interests after his winning the election in November when he ignored decades of established US diplomatic policy and held a telephonic conversation with Taiwanese prime minister, Tsai Ing-wen.