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China returns seized US drone

BEIJING (Reuters) – China has returned a U.S. underwater drone taken by a Chinese naval vessel in the disputed South China Sea last week after what China’s Defense Ministry said were “friendly” talks between the two countries.

The United States acknowledged receipt of the unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) and criticized China for the seizure, saying it was “inconsistent with both international law and standards of professionalism for conduct between navies at sea.”

China’s capture of the drone triggered a diplomatic protest and speculation about whether it will strengthen U.S.

President-elect Donald Trump’s hand as he seeks a tougher line with Beijing.

A Chinese naval ship took the drone, which the Pentagon says uses unclassified, commercially available technology to collect oceanographic data, on Thursday about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines.

In a brief statement, China’s Defense Ministry said the drone had been given back to the United States. “After friendly consultations between the Chinese and U.S. sides, the handover work for the U.S. underwater drone was smoothly completed in relevant waters in the South China Sea at midday on Dec. 20,” the ministry said in a short statement.

The defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for more details about the handover.