The news broke this morning that a Chinese navy warship maneuvered close to a U.S. auxiliary vessel on 15 December when it was recovering underwater drones off Subic Bay, and stole one of the drones.
The ship in question is USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62), an oceanographic research vessel operated for the U.S. Navy by the Military Sealift Command. Bowditch routinely deploys and handles unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) used for oceanographic research. Bowditch’s UUVs collect and report observations on temperature, salinity, and pressure in the underwater environment, because collecting such data enables us to better model and predict the performance of sonar in various ocean environments.
In the latest encounter in international waters in the South China Sea region, the USNS Bowditch was sailing about 100 miles off the port at Subic Bay when the incident occurred, according to the official.
Bowditch had stopped in the water to pick up two underwater drones. At that point 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 got no answer from the Chinese on the radio when it said the drone was American property, the official said.
As they turned away, the Chinese did come up on the radio and indicated they were returning to their own operations.
[Update, as this goes to post: the USNI News post has the text of the Pentagon’s announcement now as well. – J.E.]
Although it’s unclear what the motivation was for the Chinese, the seizing of the drone comes on the heels of other provocative incidents that have happened since President-elect Donald Trump received a congratulatory call with Taiwan’s President, a violation of the US’s agreement with China’s “One China policy”. China publicly voiced their disapproval of that incident and contacted the White House at the time.
Well, sure. But what if we weren’t four years old? What if we looked beyond what our most-despised Bad Person last did, and into some actual history of maritime interactions in the area in question – the South China Sea?