China has returned a U.S. underwater drone taken by a Chinese naval vessel in the South China Sea last week after "friendly" talks between the two countries, China's Defense Ministry said on December 20.
China's seizure of the unmanned underwater vehicle triggered a diplomatic protest. The Pentagon said the drone uses unclassified, commercially available technology to collect oceanographic data.
The seizure added to U.S. concerns about China's growing military presence and aggressive posture in the disputed South China Sea, including its militarization of maritime outposts.
The U.S. Navy has about 130 such underwater drones, made by Teledyne Webb, each weighing about 60 kilograms and able to stay underwater for up to five months.
They are used to collect unclassified data about oceans, including temperature and depth.
They are used around the world, but it is unclear how many are used in the South China Sea.
China is deeply suspicious of any U.S. military activities in the resource-rich South China Sea, with state media and experts saying the use of the drone was likely part of U.S. surveillance efforts in the disputed waterway.
Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters