China to return seized US underwater drone

Posted by News Express | 18 December 2016 | 2,715 times

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Underwater drone.

China said Saturday that it would hand over an underwater U.S. drone it seized in international waters of the South China Sea, but maintained it was blameless and accused Washington of “hyping” the seizure in an “inappropriate and unhelpful” manner.

The Pentagon said the unmanned submersible, which measures water salinity and temperature gradients, was grabbed Thursday 90 kilometres northwest of the Philippines’ Subic Bay. U.S. authorities protested that the seizure was unlawful and demanded the drone’s immediate return.

For its part, China’s Defense Ministry said a Chinese naval vessel sighted a piece of “unidentified equipment” in the water and retrieved it for the sake of “navigational safety.” Only later, the ministry said, was the object discovered to be a U.S. drone.

Chinese defense officials said Saturday that the U.S. equipment would be returned “in an appropriate manner,” but gave no details. The Pentagon confirmed there was “an understanding” with the Chinese.

The drone incident has raised fresh concerns in Washington and among Asian allies about China’s stepped-up military presence in the South China Sea, and what critics call Beijing’s aggressive responses to competing maritime claims in the region.

Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia all claim mineral and fishing rights in the region, and many of those claims overlap.

While Washington has taken no official stance on the rival sovereignty claims, the U.S. Navy has sought to protect the region’s crowded international shipping lanes. The Obama administration has also challenged China’s efforts to boost its maritime presence with military hardware deployed in areas claimed by other regional governments.

New satellite imagery released by the U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies shows China has installed weaponry, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on all seven artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea during the past several years.

The drone seizure was criticised as an “unprecedented” action in a tweet by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who has previously complained about China’s buildup in the South China Sea.

During his campaign for the presidency, Trump threatened to force dramatic changes in U.S.-China trade policy, which he blamed for large numbers of American job losses.

Trump also rattled the Beijing government last month by agreeing to take a congratulatory telephone call from Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen after his November 8 election victory.

The official contact with Taipei was the first of its kind since 1979, when Washington recognised a policy that identifies Taiwan as part of “one China.” Trump later said he would consider linking his continued support for that policy to improved cooperation from Beijing on a range of issues. (VOA)

Source: News Express

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