World Asia 17 Dec 2016 China says 'appropri ...

China says 'appropriately handling' US Navy drone issue

PTI
Published Dec 17, 2016, 3:56 pm IST
Updated Dec 17, 2016, 4:55 pm IST
According to the Pentagon, the drone was being operated by civilian contractors to conduct oceanic research.
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. (Photo: Representational Image)
 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. (Photo: Representational Image)

Beijing: Confirming the seizure of an unmanned underwater drone of the US by its navy in the disputed South China Sea, China on Saturday said both sides are "appropriately handling" the issue while a Chinese military official said that the issue will be "resolved successfully".

"According to (our) understanding, the US and Chinese sides are working on appropriately to handle this matter through channels between the two militaries," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in its first reaction on the incident while replying to queries from the media outlets here.

 

Earlier, Chinese military confirmed that it has received a request from the US to return its underwater drone seized by the PLA Navy warship in the disputed South China Sea (SCS) and said that the issue will be "resolved successfully".

A Chinese military source confirmed that they received a "claim request" from the US for an underwater drone after a Chinese warship seized it during a security check in the SCS, state-run Global Times reported in its web edition.

China believes that the incident will be "resolved successfully," the daily quoted a PLA (People's Liberation Army) source as saying.

Earlier reports from Washington said the request was made by the US after its unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) was picked up by a Chinese naval ship about 80 kms northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines on December 15 just just as the USNS Bowditch, an oceanographic survey ship, was about to retrieve it.

"We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in the statement.

US officials said the UUV is an unclassified "ocean glider" system used around the world to gather data on salinity, water temperature and sound speed.

The incident, first of its kind in the tense stand off between US and Chinese navy in the disputed SCS came in the backdrop of increasing strains between the two countries over US President-elect, Donal Trump's criticism of China on building of military installation in the SCS and his questioning of One China policy after holding talks with Taiwanese President, Tsai Ing-wen which drew strong diplomatic protests from Beijing.

China has become more assertive over the SCS after an international tribunal this year struck down its claim over all most all of the area.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have counter claims over the South China Sea.

Also, amid increasing tensions, China's first aircraft carrier conducted its maiden live fire drills on a massive scale along with a host of naval ships, aircraft and submarines, four years after it was commissioned.

China has also confirmed it is building military facilities in some of the reclaimed islands saying that the deployment of necessary defensive facilities on some islands in the SCS is legitimate and normal.

Reacting to the reports showing satellite images of the military facilities in the islands revealed by US think tank, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said on Thursday that the SCS islands are China's inherent territory and it is building necessary defensive facilities on its own territory which is completely normal and has nothing to do with militarisation.

Commenting on the UUV seizure by China, analysts said it reflects the new competition between Beijing and Washington in the area and an aggressive signal by China to show that is ready to act.

"It's not the first time that the US deployed a drone in the South China Sea area, but it's the first time the Chinese military seized it. There must be a reason for it. It could have threatened the interests of China's islands, or China's ships and submarines. It must have been damage to Chinese interests that caused the seizure," Zhao Xiaozhuo, the director and a senior colonel at the Centre on China-America Defence Relations at the Academy of Military Science, a PLA think-tank told Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

"China has been very restrained about the military intervention from the US. They have been on the edges of Chinese territories all the time. This time the Chinese military took action. It must be because of some actions taken by the US side," he said.

Zhao said both sides would probably resolve the issue through negotiation.

"China wants to send out a signal that if you spy on us underwater and threaten our national security, we have measures to deal with it," said Wu Shicun, president of the Chinese government-affiliated National Institute for South China Sea Studies.

"On the South China Sea issue, we took in humiliations with a humble view in the past. I think that era has finished now," it said.

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