China announces it will return U.S. underwater drone shortly after Trump statement

by WorldTribune Staff, December 18, 2016

China has said it will return a U.S. underwater drone it seized in the South China Sea.

Not long after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s statement criticizing the incident, China’s Defense Ministry said it would return the drone to the U.S. Navy.

USNS Bowditch. /U.S. Navy photo
USNS Bowditch. /U.S. Navy photo

The drone, launched by the USNS Bowditch, a civilian crewed oceanographic ship that is operated by the Military Sealift Command off the coast of the Philippines, was captured by China on Dec. 15.

After news of the incident spread, Trump tweeted: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act.”

China’s Defense Ministry said that, after verifying that the device was an American unmanned device, “China decided to transfer it to the U.S. through appropriate means.”

When Japan in October 2013 announced a plan to shoot down Chinese drones that overflew the contested Senkaku Islands, China responded that it would regard such as an “act of war.”

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook confirmed that “through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United States,” he said in a statement using an acronym for the unmanned underwater vehicle.

The Pentagon said the Bowditch was about to recover the drone when a Chinese Dalang III class warship approached within 500 yards of the Bowditch, launched a small vessel and snatched the drone out of the water.

The vessel brought the drone back to the Chinese warship, which then headed away.

The Bowditch contacted the Chinese vessel by radio and demanded the return of the drone. The Chinese ship acknowledged the radio transmission but ignored the request to return it, the Pentagon said

According to Cook, the drone is not armed and is used for gathering weather and temperature data.