Why Did China Reportedly Seize A U.S. Navy Vehicle? The South China Sea Is International Waters

China's President Xi Jinping speaks to his Gabonese counterpart Ali Bongo Ondimba during a meeting in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 7, 2016. / AFP / POOL / Fred DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

On Friday, Reuters reported that China's Navy "seized" a U.S. Navy vehicle, which was unmanned and underwater, in the South China Sea, an area considered international waters. According to Reuters, an underwater U.S. drone that was "deployed by an American oceanographic" was taken by a Chinese Navy warship on Dec. 15. A U.S. defense official has made a demand for the vessel's return. Reuters described the seizure as the "first of its kind in recent memory."

According to tweets from NBC Nightly News, a U.S. defense official confirmed that the drone was deployed by the USS Bowditch and China "stole it." The U.S. defense official also said the "incident is being addressed through diplomatic channels; a formal démarche has been issued from US to China."

The Associated Press reported that the Pentagon stated that China is collecting "unclassified data" from the captured drone.

According to the Washington Post, the drone was around 500 yards from the USS Bowditch when China seized it. The publication noted that the USS Bowditch "contacted the Chinese ship and asked for the glider, which collects unclassified data, but the Chinese ship, which had brought the glider aboard, left the area."

It is not yet clear what prompted China to seize the drone. In May, a U.S. military reconnaissance plan was intercepted over the South China Sea by two Chinese aircraft, and China has complained that the United States is "militarizing" the South China Sea, as NBC News noted in a report.

Tensions between China and the United States have increased since Donald Trump was elected president. Trump poses a direct challenge to the "one China" policy, treating Taiwan, which has 23 million people and has its own government, as part of China. Earlier this month, the president-elect accepted a call from Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, which was the "first direct contact between the leaders of Taiwan and the U.S. for almost four decades," Time noted.

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