China will return the US underwater drone seized by a naval vessel in the South China Sea, both countries said on Sunday, but Beijing complained that United States had been hyping up the incident.
US president-elect Donald Trump blasted the seizure with a pair of provocative tweets, accusing Beijing of stealing the drone.
He tweeted: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act.”
The drone was seized on Thursday about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay off the Philippines, just as the USNS Bowditch was about to retrieve it, US officials said.
Chinese Defence Ministry said a Chinese naval vessel discovered a piece of unidentified equipment in the sea and checked it to prevent any navigational safety issues, Reuters reported.
“China decided to return it to the U.S. side in an appropriate manner, and China and the U.S. have all along been in communication about it,” the defence ministry said on its website.
“During this process, the U.S. side’s unilateral and open hyping up is inappropriate, and is not beneficial to the smooth resolution of this issue. We express regret at this,” it added.
According to Pentagon, the lawfully operated unmanned underground vehicle (UUV) was collecting data about the salinity, temperature and clarity of the water about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay.