China will return seized US drone

PTI  | K.J.M. Varma

World, Asia

Asian giant says device being examined, accuses US of ‘making a fuss’ over incident.

Chinese J-15 fighter jets wait on the deck of Liaoning aircraft carrier during military drills in Bohai Sea, off China’s northeast coast. (Photo: AFP)

Beijing: China Saturday slammed the US for “making a fuss” over the seizure of its underwater drone in the disputed South China Sea, saying it will return the device in an “appropriate manner” even as it called its action as “professional and responsible”.

The Chinese defence ministry said it had taken the drone for verification and accused the US of “making a fuss”. Defence ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun dismissed the US allegations, insisting China had been “professional and responsible” to take the drone.

“We had to examine and verify the device in a bid to avoid any harm it might cause to the safety of navigation and personnel,” he said in a late night statement.

Mr Yang said the drone would be returned “in an appropriate manner”, hinting that Beijing may carry out its own examination of it but did not specify any time line. He said China was strongly opposed to such reconnaissance activities and it was highly inappropriate for the US to make a fuss over the incident.

Though the US and China have been experiencing tensions over the strategic South China Sea (SCS) for the past few years, this is the first time Beijing picked up a US drone, taking it to a different level.

Despite claiming almost all of SCS, China said there was never a threat to the freedom of the navigation in the most important trade route through which trillions of dollars of goods pass.

Earlier confirming the seizure of an unmanned underwater drone by its navy, China said both sides are “appropriately handling” the issue while Chinese military official expressed confidence it will be “resolved successfully”.

“According to (our) understanding, the US and Chinese sides are working on appropriately to handle this matter through channels between the two militaries,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in its first reaction on the incident while replying to queries from the media outlets here.

The Chinese military earlier said that it has received a request from US to return its underwater drone seized by the PLA Navy warship in the disputed South China Sea and said that the issue will be “resolved successfully”.

A Chinese military source confirmed that they received a “claim request” from the US for an underwater drone after a Chinese warship seized it during a security check in the SCS, state-run Global Times reported.

Reports from Washington said the request was made by the US after its unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) was picked up by a Chinese naval ship about 80 km northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines on December 15 just as the USNS Bowditch, an oceanographic survey ship, was about to retrieve it.

“We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.

US officials said the UUV is an unclassified “ocean glider” system used around world to gather data on salinity, water temperature and sound speed.

China has become more assertive over the SCS after an international tribunal this year struck down its claim over all most all of the area.