China and the United States are using military channels to “appropriately handle” the seizure by the Chinese navy of a U.S. underwater drone in the South China Sea, China said on Saturday, and a Chinese state-run newspaper said it expected a smooth resolution.
The drone was taken on Thursday, the first seizure of its kind in recent memory, about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay off the Philippines, just as the USNS Bowditch was about to retrieve the unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), U.S. officials said.
“It is understood that China and the United States are using military channels to appropriately handle this issue,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement sent to Reuters, without elaborating.
The Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said a Chinese naval vessel had discovered “unidentified equipment” and checked it to prevent any navigational safety issues. It cited an unidentified Chinese source.
“This person said China has already received a claim request for the equipment from the U.S. side. Relevant parties from both sides have maintained smooth communication channels and believe this issue will be smoothly resolved,” the paper said.
China’s Defence Ministry has yet to comment publicly on the issue.
“The UUV was lawfully conducting a military survey in the waters of the South China Sea,” a U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.