China expects a smooth resolution to the seizure by its navy of “unidentified” equipment found in the South China Sea, a state-run newspaper said on Saturday, after US officials said a Chinese warship had taken a US underwater drone.
The drone was taken on Thursday, the first seizure of its kind in recent memory, about 50 nautical miles north-west of Subic Bay off the Philippines just as the USNS Bowditch was about to retrieve the unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), US officials said.
China’s influential state-run tabloid the Global Times, citing an unidentified Chinese source, said a Chinese naval vessel had discovered “unidentified equipment” and checked it to prevent any navigational safety issues.
“This person said China has already received a claim request for the equipment from the US side, relevant parties from both sides have maintained smooth communication channels, and believe this issue will be smoothly resolved,” the paper said.
China’s defense and foreign ministries have yet to comment publicly on the issue.
“The UUV was lawfully conducting a military survey in the waters of the South China Sea,” a US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s a sovereign immune vessel, clearly marked in English not to be removed from the water – that it was US property,” the official said.
The Pentagon confirmed the incident at a news briefing on Friday and said the drone used commercially available technology and sold for about $150,000.
Still, the Pentagon viewed China’s seizure seriously since it had effectively taken US military property.
“It is ours, and it is clearly marked as ours and we would like it back. And we would like this not to happen again,” Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said.
The seizure will add to concerns about China’s increased military presence and aggressive posture in the disputed South China Sea, including its militarization of maritime outposts.
It coincided with sabre-rattling from Chinese state media and some in its military establishment after US President-elect Donald Trump cast doubt on whether Washington would stick to its nearly four-decades-old policy of recognising that Taiwan is part of “one China.”
President Barack Obama said on Friday it was appropriate for Trump to take a fresh look at US policy toward Taiwan, but he cautioned that a shift could lead to significant consequences in the US relationship with Beijing, as the notion that Taiwan is part of “one China” is central to China’s view of itself as a nation.