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  World   Americas  21 Dec 2016  China returns seized US underwater drone

China returns seized US underwater drone

AFP
Published : Dec 21, 2016, 1:44 am IST
Updated : Dec 21, 2016, 6:34 am IST

Beijing says handover ‘completed smoothly’ after US confirms report.

Chinese fighter jets land on the deck of Liaoning aircraft carrier during military drills in South China Sea. (Photo: AFP)
 Chinese fighter jets land on the deck of Liaoning aircraft carrier during military drills in South China Sea. (Photo: AFP)

Washington: China has returned a US underwater probe it seized in the South China Sea, the Pentagon confirmed after Beijing’s capture of the craft sparked a dispute between the two powers. The Chinese navy handed over the drone near where it was seized, the Pentagon said, repeating US condemnation of Beijing’s actions in what it says are international waters.

“This incident was inconsistent with both international law and standards of professionalism for conduct between navies at sea,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement late Monday.

 

“The US has addressed those facts with the Chinese through the appropriate diplomatic and military channels, and have called on Chinese authorities to comply with their obligations under international law and to refrain from further efforts to impede lawful US activities.”

A Chinese naval vessel seized the probe last week around 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines, a move that heightened already tense relations between the world’s two largest economies.

The Pentagon statement said the US Navy drone was “conducting routine operations in the international waters of the South China Sea in full compliance with international law”.

 

For its part, China said the handover of the drone was “completed smoothly” after “friendly consultations” between both sides, according to a short defence ministry statement on its website.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the handling of the incident showed the two countries have a “smooth channel of communication”. But, she also warned the US against “conducting close reconnaissance in China’s coastal waters”.

“China is strongly opposed to this and has been asking the US to stop these kinds of activities,” she said, adding: “I believe this was the root cause for this incident happening.”

Pentagon officials said last week the Chinese had “unlawfully” grabbed the marine probe, which they described as a craft that gathers unclassified data -- including water temperatures, salinity and sea clarity. Such data can be used to help submarines navigate and determine sonar ranges in murky waters.

 

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

The incident has heightened continuing tensions in the South China Sea. Beijing has fortified its claims to almost all the waterway by expanding tiny reefs and islets into artificial islands hosting military facilities.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have competing claims in the waterway.

While Washington takes no position on the sovereignty disputes, it has repeatedly called on China to uphold freedom of navigation. Its military has conducted several operations in which ships and planes have passed near the sites Beijing claims.

 

US President-elect Donald Trump raised the rhetorical heat further last week, accusing Beijing of theft.

After Beijing and Washington announced on Sunday the drone would be returned, he 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”.

The state-owned China daily said in an editorial earlier that Mr Trump’s behaviour “could easily drive China-US relations into what (US President Barack) Obama portrays as ‘full-conflict mode’”.    

Tags: south china sea, us navy underwater drone
Location: United States, Washington