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Pentagon Says China Will Return Seized Navy Underwater Drone (After Trump Tweet & Diplomatic Pressure)

December 17, 2016

Saturday morning the Pentagon said that China will return the U.S. Navy underwater drone that it seized in international waters on Friday.

Pentagon Spokesperson Peter Cook put out a statement saying, “We have registered our objection to China’s unlawful seizure of a U.S. unmanned-underwater vehicle operating in international waters in the South China Sea. Through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United States.”

Pentagon officials said it is not clear when or how the drone would be returned.

We previously reported that on Friday China’s navy seized an unmanned, underwater U.S. Navy drone collecting scientific data in the international waters of the South China Sea. A U.S. Defense official told Reuters on Friday that a Chinese Navy warship has captured the drone, which triggered a formal démarche from the U.S. and a demand for its return. The official also disclosed that the unprecedented incident happened on December 15th northwest of Subic Bay off the Philippines.

The Dept. of Defense released a statement on its website on Friday:

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.”

Then Saturday morning President-elect Donal Trump tweeted:

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China had indicated, before the Pentagon statement that China and the U.S. were talking about how to resolve the issue. China’s comment was short on details.

The Pentagon says the drone was being operated by civilian contractors for research purposes.

The U.S. said it issued a formal diplomatic complaint over the seizure and demanded the drone’s return.

“According to (our) understanding, the U.S. and Chinese sides are working on appropriately handling this matter through channels between the two militaries,” the foreign ministry said in its statement. The statement was faxed to The Associated Press.

Friday’s Dept. of Defense statement also stated:

“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.”

Tensions have been extremely high as China continues to try to claim the South China Sea as its own in defiance of established maritime and international law. China has also, and continues to, build new islands in the South China Sea to “defend it’s claims.”

China’s bold act of unilateral aggression has angered its neighbors. American Military News recently reported that Vietnam recently armed other islands in the South China Sea within striking distance of the Chinese bases.