China will return an underwater U.S. drone seized by a naval vessel this week in the South China Sea, both countries said on Saturday, but Beijing complained that Washington had been “hyping up” the incident.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to take an aggressive approach in dealing with China over its economic and military policies, jumped on the unusual drone seizure with a pair of provocative tweets, accusing Beijing of stealing the equipment.
The drone, which the Pentagon said was operating lawfully was collecting data about the salinity, temperature and clarity of the water about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay, off the Philippines.
It was seized just as the USNS Bowditch was about to retrieve it, U.S. officials said.
“Through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese would return the UUV to the United States,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement.