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China returns seized US underwater drone

The United States has acknowledged receipt of an underwater craft that had been seized in the South China Sea. The seizure of the drone had sparked a dispute between the two countries.

USNS Bowditch (Reuters /U.S. Navy)

The USNS Bowditch deployed the drone

The United States said on Tuesday it had received an underwater probe seized last week by China in an incident that further strained already tense ties between the two world powers.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement that the USS Mustin had taken receipt of the drone 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines, near the location where it was taken.

The Chinese Defense Ministry had earlier said that the return of the craft to the US Navy had gone "smoothly" after "friendly consultations" between the two sides.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied that the drone had been stolen, as US President-elect Donald Trump had earlier claimed on Twitter. 

Pentagon officials had described the drone as being used to collect unclassified data to help submarines navigate and determine sonar ranges in murky waters. China said it had seized the vehicle because it was a potential hazard to other vessels.

Beijing also said it was "strongly opposed" to US reconnaissance activities in the region.

Following the return of the drone on Tuesday, Washington called on China to stop hindering its lawful activities in the South China Sea.

tj/dm (Reuters, AFP)

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