Seized drone might have gathered valuable info: expert

By Yang Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/18 19:38:39

File photo:CFP

File photo:CFP

Chinese military analysts said the US should put a halt to its spying activities in the South China Sea after the defense ministry announced China will return a US underwater drone seized in the waters.

"This is not the first time that we seized a US underwater drone in the South China Sea, but the one we seized on Thursday is new and more advanced than before and might carry valuable information just gathered in the South China Sea," Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert told the Global Times on Sunday.

This is why the US was so nervous and tried to use the media to hype it up this time while it had remained silent before, Li said. "The US was aware that such spying activity is inappropriate."

China will transfer the drone to the US "in an appropriate manner," said Yang Yujun, spokesperson for the Chinese defense ministry on Saturday. A Chinese military source confirmed with the Global Times that they received on Saturday a "claim request" from the US for the underwater drone.

Song Zhongping, a military commentator at Phoenix TV, told the Global Times on Sunday that in the military field, the drone, or UUV (unmanned underwater vehicle), can gather hydrological intelligence about salinity, temperature and ocean currents.

"More importantly, it can also gather military intelligence like the movements of submarines," Song said, explaining that the South China Sea is a significant area for Chinese navy submarines and nuclear submarines.

"We call upon China to return our UUV immediately and to comply with all of its obligations under international law," the US Department of Defense's Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement posted on the Pentagon's website on Friday.

"On the afternoon of Thursday, a Chinese naval lifeboat located an unidentified device in the South China Sea. In order to prevent the device from causing harm to the safety of navigation and personnel of passing vessels, the Chinese naval lifeboat verified and examined the device in a professional and responsible manner," Yang said.

The incident occurred in international waters about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay Naval Air Station in the Philippines, Pentagon press operations director Navy Captain Jeff Davis said Friday.

However, Philippine defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Saturday they were unaware that the US has been using an underwater drone in its oceanographic survey of the West Philippine Sea, Philippine news site reported.

'The thief is US'

When the defense ministry spokesperson said China would return the drone "in an appropriate manner," he might mean the information this drone gathered in the South China Sea will not be handed back to the US, "whether the US is happy or not," Li noted.

Li said some UUVs cannot transmit information while it is still underwater.

In addition, the US has to explain why the US Navy is always conducting such inappropriate and dangerous activities around China, Li said.

"Trump, who said 'China steals' their UUV, should notice that they are the thieves who are engaged in spying around our front door," Li said.

According to a China Central Television (CCTV) report on August 21, 2015, a Chinese fisherman surnamed Huang seized a "big iron fish" when fishing in the South China Sea which he handed over to the local government afterwards.

The "iron fish" was an underwater drone. Although it had no image or character on the surface, the components inside had English characters when it was opened by Chinese maritime researchers, CCTV reported.

Since 2001, the US has been using UUVs much more frequently in the South China Sea, and China has also seized a lot, Li said.

Trump's tweets bewildering

Although the US has already officially asked China to return the drone, Trump, as president-elect, posted on his Twitter account on Saturday that "We should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back - let them keep it!"

A few hours before this tweet, he posted that "China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters - rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act." Hilariously, he misspelled his first tweet, writing "unpresidented" at first. That tweet was later deleted and corrected. 

Trump's contradictory stance to the Pentagon, said Chu Yin, an associate professor at the International Relations University, means "there is no need to treat Trump's declarations too seriously, since he is not speaking to us, but to his fans and followers, and his behavior won't affect the US' current policies."

"He is not the US president yet … and remember, we are still dealing with [President] Barack Obama's administration," Chu said.

Newspaper headline: US must stop spying in South China Sea


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