China and US start talks over returning the seized drone

BEIJING: China and the US have started the process of negotiations for returning an undersea drone of the US navy which was seized by Chinese naval officials in the South China Sea on Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday.

The ministry did not disclose the details of the negotiations but experts said Beijing wants to renegotiate an existing accord on navigational activities by the two countries in the South China Sea.
China wants to expand the terms of the accord to include small undersea drones. If included, it will make it difficult for the US navy to operate unmanned drones without notifying China in advance. On its part, the US wants the drone to be returned intact without any tampering or removal of stored data, sources said.

US spying in South China Sea is a lot more extensive that what has been revealed by the seizure of an American undersea drone, the official People’s Daily said.

“The US side played down its drone activities, but its intention behind them cannot be concealed,” the paper said in a commentary. “The drone that emerged from the South China Sea is just the tip of the iceberg in the US military strategy on China,” it added.

The drone issue has added one more hurdle in the bumpy relationship between the two countries, which has been aggravated by a flurry of tweets by Donald Trump, the US president elect. Trump said in his latest tweet that China should be allowed the keep the drone , and there is no need to bring it back.

His views do not match those of the Obama administration which has been engaged in negotiations to reclaim the drone.

China said it picked up what looked like an “unidentified object” in the sea because of concerns that it could hamper the safety of navigation. It was only later that it’s naval officials learnt that the object was really an unmanned drone used for spying by the US navy.

The drone was found 92 kms from the Philippine coast and within its exclusive economic zone. Philippines has now said it is opposed to any disturbances near its coast. Manila, which has been a close US allay for decades, is now taking a decidedly pro-China line leaving the US almost isolated in the South China Sea.

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