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US acknowledges China has returned underwater drone seized in South China Sea

China’s defence ministry said on Tuesday it had returned to the United States a US underwater drone taken by a Chinese naval vessel in the South China Sea last week.

world Updated: Dec 20, 2016 22:25 IST
US drone,South China Sea,US-China ties
Oceanographic survey ship USNS Bowditch that deployed an underwater drone seized by a Chinese Navy warship in international waters in South China Sea.(Reuters)

China said on Tuesday it has returned a seized underwater probe to the US Navy in the South China Sea, after Beijing’s seizure of the craft sparked a dispute between the two powers.

The handover of the small vehicle to the US went “completed smoothly” after “friendly consultations” between both sides, China’s defence ministry said in a short statement on its website.

The United States acknowledged on Tuesday it had received an underwater drone “unlawfully seized” by a Chinese vessel last week.

The USS Mustin received the vehicle for the United States in international waters approximately 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines, near where it was taken, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.

China seized the probe around 50 nautical miles (90 kilometres) northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines last week, in an incident which heightened already tense relations between the world’s two largest economies.

Pentagon officials had previously said that it would be handed over to the crew of a US warship in the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal.

Read | China rejects Trump’s claim it stole US drone

  • The Chinese military returned the underwater drone to the US Navy in South China Sea on Tuesday.
  • The Pentagon said last week a Chinese naval vessel had “unlawfully” grabbed the drone around 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines.
  • China, however, maintains that its military had seized the underwater glider to ensure safe navigation of passing ships.
  • The drone incident has raised fresh concerns about China’s increased military presence and aggressive posture in the energy-rich South China Sea

Last week, Pentagon officials said the Chinese had “unlawfully” grabbed the marine probe, which they described as a craft that gathers unclassified data that can be used to help submarines navigate and determine sonar ranges in murky waters.

China said it had been snatched since it might pose a safety hazard to other vessels. It also said it “strongly opposed” US reconnaissance activities and had asked Washington to stop.

US President-elect Donald Trump also waded into the row. On Sunday, after Beijing and Washington announced the drone would be returned, Trump tweeted: “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back. - let them keep it!”

China’s foreign ministry on Monday rejected Trump’s accusations Beijing had stolen the craft as “not accurate”.

First Published: Dec 20, 2016 11:01 IST