China: ‘Appropriately handling’ US Navy drone

This undated Navy file photo shows the Oceanographic Survey Ship, USNS Bowditch. China "unlawfully" seized an unmanned US naval probe in international waters in the South China Sea, the Pentagon said on December 16, 2016.  The underwater probe was taken around 50 nautical miles (90 kilometers) northwest off Subic Bay in the Philippines on December 15 in a non-violent incident, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said. The event unfolded as the civilian-crewed USNS Bowditch was retrieving a pair of "naval gliders" that routinely collect information on water temperatures, salinity and sea clarity.   / AFP PHOTO / CHINFO, Navy Visual News Service / HO / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / U.S. Navy Photo" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS



China said on Saturday that its military was in contact with its American counterparts on “appropriately handling” the Chinese navy’s seizure of a US Navy unmanned underwater glider, one of the most serious incidents between the two militaries in years.
The one-sentence comment by the foreign ministry offered no details on what discussions were underway or why China on Thursday seized the drone, which, according to the Pentagon, was being operated by civilian contractors to conduct oceanic research. The US said it issued a formal diplomatic complaint over the seizure and demanded the drone’s return.
“According to (our) understanding, the US and Chinese sides are working on appropriately handling this matter through channels between the two militaries,” the foreign ministry said.
China’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to questions on the issue.
The drone was seized while collecting unclassified scientific data about 92 kilometers (57 miles) northwest of Subic Bay near the Philippines in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Friday.
“It is ours. It’s clearly marked as ours. We would like it back, and we would like this not to happen again,” Davis told reporters. He said the drone costs about $150,000 and is largely commercial, off-the-shelf technology.
The USNS Bowditch, which is not a combat ship, was stopped in international waters on Thursday afternoon and recovering two of the gliders when the Chinese ship approached, Davis said. The two vessels were within about 450 meters (500 yards) of each other. He said that the USNS Bowditch carries some small arms, but that no shots were fired.
According to the Pentagon, as the Chinese ship left with the drone, which is about 3 meters (10 feet) long, its only radio response to the US vessel was, “We are returning to normal operations.”
President-elect Donald Trump blasted the seizure. Apparently misspelling “unprecedented,” he tweeted Saturday: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act.” He later reissued the tweet, correcting the spelling to “unprecedented.”
Last weekend, Trump was criticized on social media for bad spelling in a tweet in which he accused CNN of reporting “rediculous” fake news. Hours later, he put out a fresh tweet correcting the spelling to “ridiculous.”
Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the seizure of the glider occurred inside the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, not China, and appeared to be a violation of international law.China delineates its South China Sea claims with a roughly drawn sea border known as the “nine-dash line” that runs along the west coast of the Philippines. However, it hasn’t explicitly said whether it considers those waters as sovereign territory, and says it doesn’t disrupt the passage of other nations’ shipping through the area. The US doesn’t take a position on sovereignty claims, but insists on freedom of navigation, including the right of its naval vessels to conduct training and other operations in the sea.

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