China Returns U.S. Drone Taken In South China Sea

By Reina Ilagan

Dec 20, 2016 07:34 AM EST

China said that it has already handed over the underwater drone owned by the U.S. which a Chinese naval vessel took in South China Sea last week. The return of the drone happened after the two countries talked it out.

The naval ship's seizure of the unmanned underwater vehicle, about 50 miles northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines, has triggered a diplomatic protest and speculation on President-elect Donald Trump's possible relationship with Beijing. Some speculated that Mr. Trump may continue with a tougher line with China.

Adding to the heightened tension between the two countries was the president-elect's tweet saying, "We should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back. - let them keep it!" This came after the announcement that the drone would be handed back to the U.S.

China responded to this by rejecting Mr. Trump's claim that they stole the drone, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying saying the accusation was not accurate.

"Imagine that you found something on the street - you would need to first check and verify it before handing it back to someone else," she said in a press conference.

The incident has added further concerns of the U.S. on China's growing military presence and aggressive posture in the disputed South China Sea. China has previously been called out for its militarization of maritime posts.

"After friendly consultations between the Chinese and US sides, the handover work for the US underwater drone was smoothly completed in relevant waters in the South China Sea at midday on Dec. 20," China's Defense Ministry said in a brief statement. Further details were not provided by the ministry.

The drone, according to Pentagon, used unclassified and commercially available technology in collecting oceanographic data such as temperature and depth. There are about 130 U.S. Navy underwater drones around the world. The number of drones used in the South China Sea has not been confirmed. The drones are about 60 kg and can stay underwater for five months.

With the use of drones believed to be a part of U.S. surveillance efforts in the area, China has become increasingly suspicious of any U.S. military activities in the South China Sea.

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