China’s Defense Ministry officially announced on Saturday that it plans to return an American unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) that a warship confiscated near the Philippines’ Subic Bay.
China also pointed out that the United States might be over-reacting after it immediately filed a formal diplomatic protest and demanded its return, according to Reuters.
Aside from the diplomatic complaint, the seizure, the first of its kind in recent years, also earned a lashing from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump via an initially misspelled tweet accusing China of stealing the drone in international waters, calling it an “unpresidented” act. He corrected his tweet after almost an hour.
China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 17, 2016
U.S. officials said that the drone was captured by the Chinese vessel as it was returning to the USNS Bowditch after it finished collecting data about the water’s salinity, temperature and clarity within 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay, an area that is outside China’s claimed territory marked in Beijing’s “nine-dash line” on maps.
On the other hand, China maintains that it had been “professional and responsible” in confiscating 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,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun said in a statement.
He reiterated China’s position in strongly opposing reconnaissance activities in the region, noting that for the U.S. to make a fuss over the incident was highly inappropriate.
And while the drone incident has raised new concerns about China’s growing military presence in the disputed South China Sea region, the Philippine government has chosen to keep its distance from the issue in an effort to “mend relations” with China.
After a U.S. think tank recently reported that China installed anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons on its new artificial islands in the disputed waters, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte commented that he is not planning to go against China, and is even willing to “set aside” a ruling by an international arbitration tribunal that invalidated Beijing’s claims to most of the South China Sea, Rappler reported.
“In the play of politics, now, I will set aside the arbitral ruling. I will not impose anything on China,” Duterte was quoted as saying.