According to US official sources cited by Reuters, an unmanned submarine-drone was illegally/unlawfully seized by China. Reuters says that the US UUV (unmanned underwater vehicle) was conducting an oceanographic survey in the waters of South China’s Sea.
US officials claim that the American UUV was acting in conformity with international Maritime law as it was a sovereign immune vessel, featuring clear English markings on its hull which said “not to be removed from the water, US Property”.
The incident took place on December 15th somewhere North-West of the Subic Bay, near the Philippines and it marks a premiere, being the first of its kind. The “kidnapping” incident happened while the USNS Bowditch (an oceanographic survey vessel) was just about to retrieve the underwater drone, according to the US officials cited by Reuters.
The incident was later confirmed by the Pentagon during a news briefing. The UUV was not a military ship per se, as it used commercially available technology, being sold for approximately $150,000. The Pentagon took the Chinese drone-kidnapping incident very seriously, as the Chinese basically “stole” US military property.
Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis was quoted as saying:
“It is ours, and it is clearly marked as ours and we would like it back. And we would like this not to happen again,”
This latest incident involving the Chinese Navy will definitely make US-Chinese diplomatic relations worse, as the Pentagon is already concerned about China’s increased military presence in the disputed regions of the South China Sea, and especially about China’s aggressive posture and the militarization of their maritime outposts.
According to a US think tank assessment from this week, after analyzing the latest satellite imagery, there are clear signs that China already installed anti missile and anti aircraft weapons systems on the 7 artificial islands built in the last year in the South China Sea.
A senior fellow in the Asia Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security concluded that China will have major difficulties in explaining their latest actions (if proved to be accurate) :
“This move, if accurately reported, is highly escalatory, and it is hard to see how Beijing will justify it legally,”
The oceanographic research vessel whose UUV was stolen right in front of their eyes is owned by the US Navy yet it’s operated by Military Sealift Command, having a crew of civilian scientists and mariners. Some analysts regard China’s move as nothing short of an act of war.