Washington, Dec 20 (IANS) China on Tuesday returned the US unmanned underwater drone it seized last week in the disputed South China Sea, officials said.
“After friendly consultations between China and the US, the transfer of the underwater drone was smoothly completed,” CNN cited a Chinese Defence Ministry statement as saying.
According to the Pentagon, the US would continue to investigate the events surrounding the incident.
A Chinese warship had been shadowing the Bowditch, a US naval vessel, in the international waters of the South China Sea. The Chinese then launched a small boat and snatched the unmanned underwater vehicle, the Pentagon had said earlier.
The seizure of the US drone by China in the international waters of the South China Sea plunged the testy ties between the two countries to a new low. The two global powers vying for influence in the energy-rich waters through which trade worth $5 trillion passes every year.
After the seizure on last Thursday, US President-elect Donald Trump reacted angrily on Twitter.
“China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act.”
China rejected the claim, saying its Navy picked up the drone to prevent “harm” to freedom of navigation in the waters.
The episode comes after Trump infuriated Beijing by talking to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen. A section in the US feels the seizure has to do with Trump’s talks with the first female President of Taiwan — a breakaway island which China claims as its own.
The US and China have been engaged in wrangling in the South China Sea. While China lays claim to about 80 per cent of the waters, US contests the claim.
The US has sent warships to the waters angering Beijing, which has built artificial islands in the sea.