China returns US drone seized by navy after 'friendly consultations'

Chinese navy vessel hands back underwater device to the USS Mustin in international waters near the Philippines

The Pentagon has said that Beijing has returned the unmanned underwater drone that the Chinese Navy seized last week. China’s defence ministry said it handed the drone back after “friendly consultations.”

In a statement issued late on Monday, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the Chinese navy vessel that had seized the drone returned it close to where it had been taken from. The incident occurred in the South China Sea near the Philippines.

The USS Mustin received the vehicle for the US in international waters about 50 miles northwest of Subic Bay, according to Cook.

Cook said the US would continue to investigate the incident. Earlier on Monday he had said US and Chinese officials, including military leaders, were working out logistical details for the return.

The US said the drone was being operated by civilian contractors collecting unclassified scientific data in international waters “in full compliance with international law”. Officials said a noncombat ship was recovering two drones when a Chinese ship approached, launched a small boat and picked up one of them.

“This incident was inconsistent with both international law and standards of professionalism for conduct between navies at sea,” the statement by Cook said.

The return of the drone came hours after US president-elect tweeted saying the Chinese should keep it.

We should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back.- let them keep it!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2016

Relations between China and the US are tense following Trump’s phone call with the president of Taiwan earlier this month, which sparked a diplomatic incident and broke with almost four decades of US foreign policy.

Trump then used a Fox News interview to question US “one China” policy on Taiwan, a breakaway island state which is not recognised by Beijing.

His outbursts prompted Barack Obama to caution Trump against allowing relations with China to slip into “full conflict mode”.

Associated Press contributed to this report

Guardian staff and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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