China has returned a U.S. underwater drone seized by one of its naval vessels in the contested South China Sea recently after what it said got along talks with the United States, which reiterated its criticism of the illegal “seizure”.
The seizing of the unmanned underwater vehicle in international waters around the Philippines set off a diplomatic protest and speculation about whether it would enhance U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s hand as he looks for a tougher line with China.
A Chinese naval ship seized the drone, which the Pentagon told uses unclassified, commercially available technology to gather oceanographic information, on Thursday about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay of the Philippines.
China’s defense ministry stated in a brief declaration the drone had been returned to the United States on Tuesday.
“After friendly consultations in between the Chinese and U.S. sides, the handover work for the U.S. undersea drone was efficiently completed in appropriate waters in the South China Sea at midday,” the ministry stated.
The defense ministry refused to provide more information about the handover when called by Reuters.
The Pentagon stated the vehicle had been turned over to the directed rocket destroyer USS Mustin near where it had been illegally seized. It called on China to comply with law and refrain from further efforts to hinder lawful U.S. activities.
“The United States remains committed to maintaining the accepted principles and norms of international law and liberty of navigation and overflight and will continue to fly, cruise, and run in the South China Sea anywhere international law permits,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook stated..
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying referred concerns about the handover and other information of the case to the defense ministry.