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China agrees to return U.S. underwater drone, Pentagon says

By Amy R. Connolly and Eric DuVall
China agrees to return U.S. underwater drone, Pentagon says
President-elect Donald Trump accused China of stealing a U.S. underwater drone. The drone, used for research, was seized by a Chinese boat in the South China Sea on Thursday. File Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Arthurgwain L. Marquez/U.S. Navy/UPI

WASHINGTON, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Beijing agreed Saturday to return a U.S.-owned underwater drone seized by China in international waters, but not before criticizing the United States' "unilateral move to dramatize the issue."

Chinese defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said a Chinese navy boat discovered the device in the South China Sea on Thursday and took it to prevent "harm to the safety of navigation and personnel of passing vessels." Chinese officials identified the device as a U.S. underwater drone.

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"The Chinese side has decided to hand over it to the U.S. in an appropriate manner," officials said. "Both sides have been maintaining communication on the issue. The U.S. side's unilateral move to dramatize the issue in the process is inappropriate and not conductive to its settlement. We regret that."

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook confirmed the ongoing talks and return of the drone.

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"Through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the U.U.V. to the United States," Cook said, using initials to refer to the Navy's underwater drone.

Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the USNS Bowditch, which is not a combat ship, was attempting to recover the drone when it was taken. It costs about $150,000.

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Early Saturday, President-elect Donald Trump accused China of stealing the drone.

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"China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters -- rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act," Trump said Saturday on Twitter.

Trump sparked a round of backlash on Twitter after initially calling China's actions "unpresidented." The tweet was later deleted and replaced with the proper spelling, "unprecedented."

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