BEIJING Dec 19 An underwater drone taken by a
Chinese naval vessel in the South China Sea last week is part of
U.S. surveillance efforts in the disputed waterway, but Beijing
won't likely make a big fuss about its handover, Chinese state
media and experts said.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to take a
more 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
The drone, known as an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV),
was taken on Thursday, the first seizure of its kind in recent
The Pentagon went public with its complaint about the
incident and said on Saturday it had secured a deal to get the
drone back. China says its looking for an appropriate way to
return the vehicle, but accused Washington of hyping up the
China is deeply suspicious of any U.S. military activities
in the resource-rich South China Sea, which China claims almost
in its entirely.
The overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party's
People's Daily said in a commentary on Monday the USNS Bowditch,
which was operating the drone, was a "serial offender" when it
came to spying operations against China. The
"The downplaying of the actions of the drone cannot cover up
the real intentions in the background," it said. "This drone
which floated to the surface in the South China Sea is the tip
of the iceberg of U.S. military strategy, including towards
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 USNS Bowditch is an "infamous" military reconnaissance
ship that has been surveying China's coastal waters since 2002,
said Ma Gang, a professor at the People's Liberation Army
National Defence University, told the official China Daily.
"Oceanic data is crucial for ship formations, submarine
routes and battle planning," Ma said. "Therefore, it is normal
for the Chinese Navy to be suspicious of Bowditch's activities
given past experience."
According to Chinese state media, the same ship was involved
in incidents in 2001 and 2002 when it was shadowed by Chinese
navy ships while operating in the Yellow Sea. Chinese media say
it has also operated in the sensitive Taiwan Straits.
Zhang Huang, director of the security studies centre of the
National University of Defence Technology, told the main edition
of the People's Daily the United States had been using civilian
excuses to collect information that could have military
"As soon as an underwater drone enters our waters for close
in surveillance, it may be used to collect all sorts of
information about submarine routes for our navy, seriously
threatening our naval security," Zhang said.
Ni Lexiong, a naval expert, Shanghai University of Political
Science and Law, told Reuters he believed the Chinese navy
probably had orders to take the drone.
But Ni said this is a very different incident from the 2001
intercept of a U.S. spy plane by a Chinese fighter jet that
resulted in a collision that killed the Chinese pilot and forced
the American plane to make an emergency landing at a base on
"This is a much smaller incident, it won't affect the
overall picture of China-U.S. relations," he said, adding that
he did not expect China to seek an apology from the U.S.
The 24 U.S. air crew members were held for 11 days until
Washington apologised for the incident. That encounter soured
U.S.-Chinese relations in the early days of President George W.
Bush's first administration.
(Editing by Lincoln Feast)