Recently, headlines were made when a Chinese Navy ship captured an American underwater research drone. A US crew watched idly, as they witnessed their equipment being stolen out of the South China Sea, an area which is contested by the Chinese and the Philippines.
The incident took place Thursday December 15, approximately 40 miles west of the Philippines. A Chinese ship had been shadowing the American USNS Bowditch vessel for days prior to confiscating the underwater drone, which was deployed by the US vessel. The drone itself is known as a Slocum Glider.
Since US military property was stolen, China’s move is considered an act of war. When the Chinese Navy ship took possession of the drone, US crews were only a quarter mile away on the US navy research ship, which is operated by Military Sealift Command.
In the South China Sea, the Chinese have been regularly shadowing US Navy vessels for months. China apparently set up anti-aircraft guns and close-in weaponry designed to guard their seven area man-made islands from missile attacks.
Pentagon Press Secretary, Peter Cook, called upon China to return the Slocum Glider immediately, and to comply with their obligations under international law. The underwater drone, which was used to map the sea floor and gain oceanographic data, did not contain any classified material. There was no response from the USNS Bowditch because it only contained small arms, which were likely stored away on board. The ship is used to support worldwide oceanographic programs. It performs acoustical, biological, physical and geophysical surveys.
When the American research ship’s crew saw their $150,000 drone plucked out of the water, they tried to call the Chinese ship over bridge-to-bridge radio, but got no response. Officials from the Chinese Embassy had no immediate comment, but relations between the US and China got a little frayed recently when Donald Trump spoke with Taiwan’s President. China’s Communist party-owned newspaper, Global Times, recently wrote that Beijing should be ready to seize Taiwan by force before the incoming Trump administration “activates the Taiwan card.”
Donald Trump addressed China via Twitter regarding the matter in the South China Sea. After China said they would return the confiscated drone, Trump took to twitter again saying, “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back — let them keep it!”
China has since returned the drone to the US and the issue has been resolved.