Updated 2:12 PM EST, Wed, Jan 29, 2020

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China Likely to Make Demands Before Returning US Drone Seized in South China Sea

China to Return US Drone With Accompanying Demands

(Photo : Getty Images) Chinese military experts said Beijing would return the US drone with several conditions.

Political and military analysts on Sunday said Beijing is likely to present a list of demands to Washington before it hands back a US underwater drone it seized in the South China Sea waters last week.

According to the analysts, among the demands that Beijing is likely to present is a request for the US to scale down its surveillance activities in the disputed waterway amid fears of heightened tension following the transition of power in Washington.

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China is also expected to ask Washington to widen the scope of the code for unplanned military encounters in the disputed waters to include drones like the one seized by a Chinese warship off the coast of the Philippines' Subic Bay last Thursday.

Unplanned encounters at sea

Zhang Zhexin, a professor from the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said Beijing might return the drone within 10 days and this would come together with China's demands.

"China is worried that there will be more action from the US during its power transition period," he said. "Beijing will possibly talk to the US about expanding the code for unplanned encounters at sea to include unmanned underwater vehicles."

In an interview with the People's Daily, Zhang Huang, a professor from the PLA National Defence University, said the US drone could be used to spy on Chinese naval activities such as gathering navigation data of Chinese submarines and ships in the South China Sea.

Battle plan

Another Chinese military observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the US military was dependent on these drones in preparing and mapping out its action in the South China Sea based on the data collected by the unmanned underwater vehicle.

"If the US wants to step up surveillance against China, or even make a battle plan, it can use the updated data collected from those drones," he said.

China's defense ministry said on Saturday that the underwater drone would be returned by China to the US "in an appropriate manner" amid the unnecessary tensions being created by officials in Washington.


China's confiscation of the drone, which belongs to the US oceanographic survey ship "Bowditch," has caused a furor in Washington, with top officials calling Beijing a "thief."

In yet another twist to the drone drama on Sunday, President-elect Donald Trump ranted against Beijing and tweeted, "We should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back - let them keep it."

The US has officially lodged a diplomatic protest before the Chinese embassy demanding the return of the drone, which, it said, was "unlawfully" seized by the Chinese Navy.

According to Washington, the drone was an unclassified ocean glider that was being used to gather data on salinity. Beijing, on the other hand, justified the seizure reiterating that it might harm naval personnel and interfere with navigation in the South China Sea waters. 

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