China seizes US glider in latest attempt to stamp sovereignty over South China Sea

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A US Navy buoyancy glider similar to one seized by Chinese forces. Picture credit: US Navy Photo
 

The Chinese have taken a United States of America (US) Navy unmanned buoyancy glider in international waters earlier this week. US defense officials who confirmed the seizure said that the glider was operating with US Military Sealift Command ship USNS Bowditch (T-AGS-62) about 50 miles off of Subic Bay in the Philippines when a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy ship took it.

BBC reported a Pentagon official as saying that the “Chinese navy ship ASR-510, a Dalang III-class ship, approached within 500 yards of the Bowditch, launched a small boat, and seized the UUV (unmanned underwater vehicle).”

CNN, one of the first news sites to report on the seizure said that “a Chinese naval ship that had been shadowing the Bowditch put a small boat into the water. That small boat came up alongside and the Chinese crew took one of the drones.”

The US Naval Institute (USNI) News reporting on the incident said that the gliders are not the Navy’s most sophisticated unmanned vehicles and are used by the service as oceanographic survey tools. it said, “the gliders largely use unclassified means to collect data for the Navy’s charts and ocean models. The service deploys the systems for months at a time and they transmit data back to the Navy.”

picture credit: USNI News
picture credit: USNI News

“This is an area of significant importance for future naval operations,” Eric Wertheim, author of U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets told USNI News “While this ocean glider UUV may be low tech by comparison to other more advanced U.S. UUVs, the Chinese are known to be investing heavily in the development of their own unmanned underwater vehicles, and any additional information garnered from foreign systems could potentially prove useful to them,” he added.

The US Department of Defence (Pentagon) Press Secretary Peter Cook commenting on the incident in South China Sea said:

“Using appropriate government-to-government channels, the Department of Defense has called upon China to immediately return an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) that China unlawfully seized on Dec. 15 in the South China Sea while it was being recovered by a U.S. Navy oceanographic survey ship. The USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) and the UUV — an unclassified “ocean glider” system used around the world to gather military oceanographic data such as salinity, water temperature, and sound speed – were conducting routine operations in accordance with international law about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay, Philippines, when a Chinese Navy PRC DALANG III-Class ship (ASR-510) launched a small boat and retrieved the UUV. Bowditch made contact with the PRC Navy ship via bridge-to-bridge radio to request the return of the UUV. The radio contact was acknowledged by the PRC Navy ship, but the request was ignored. The UUV is a sovereign immune vessel of the United States. We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law.”

The Chinese government has confirmed that it has seized an “unidentified” equipment it found in the South China Sea. An online publication with strong ties to the Communist government of China, Global Times, citing military sources said that Beijing believed the incident would be resolved “smoothly”. It said the equipment was checked to prevent any navigational issues in the disputed waters.

The seizure of the US UUV is the latest in a string of strong assertions China has made to claim its sovereignty over the South China Sea, since the Hague tribunal ruled in favour of the Philippines but against some of China’s claims in the disputed area.

Singapore is not a claimant to the disputed territory but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong strongly urged China to abide by the ruling, adding that only when countries respect international rules, will small nations have a chance to survive in a global world.

The Chinese government has also seized nine armoured vehicles which were shipped back to Singapore after a military exercise in Taiwan. China protested Singapore’s military exchange with Taiwan (which it considers a renegade province) saying, “the Chinese government has always firmly opposed countries that have diplomatic ties with China to have any form of official exchanges with Taiwan, including military exchanges and cooperation.”

The Chinese also asked the Singapore Government to strictly abide by the one-China principle.

China also flew a nuclear-capable bomber outside its borders in a show of force after US President-elect Donald Trump spoke on the phone with the president of Taiwan. Trump later questioned the US’s ‘One China’ policy.

Commenting on strong remarks by PM Lee to China to abide by the international ruling on South China Sea which may have angered the Chinese opposition leader Tan Jee Say said: “staying quiet or making neutral remarks softly, is the right thing to do for a small nation who is not a claimant in the disputed territories. Otherwise we may provoke hostile reactions from parties directly involved in the dispute.”

He added: “after roaring on the scene like a tiger and then suddenly turning quiet as a mouse 5 months later, what does this episode tell us about the leadership of PM Lee who has said ad infinitum that Singapore requires exceptional leadership to survive. What has PM Lee shown us about his tiger-turned-mouse leadership? This reminds me of the famous line in the popular beer advertisement, “Give that man a Tiger”. Yes we want a tiger, a real tiger, not a paper tiger.”