China has returned to the US an unmanned underwater drone the Chinese navy seized unlawfully last week in international waters, the Pentagon says. The Chinese navy vessel that seized the drone returned it near where it had been taken, and it was received by the USS Mustin about 50 miles northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement, per the AP. Cook said Washington considered the seizure illegal. "This incident was inconsistent with both international law and standards of professionalism for conduct between navies at sea," he said, adding that the US has called on China to refrain from "further efforts to impede lawful US activities."
The Pentagon statement said the US would continue to "fly, sail, and operate in the South China Sea wherever international law allows." Such freedom of navigation missions in which US ships sail near China's artificial islands draw warnings and rebukes from Beijing. China's defense ministry said in a statement that it handed the drone back after "friendly consultations." Chinese officials say the drone was removed from the water to ensure the safety of passing ships, but domestic political experts have read the move as a warning to Donald Trump not to test Beijing's resolve over Taiwan. Trump slammed the seizure as "unpresidented," though he later tweeted that the US should tell China to just keep the drone. (Read more China stories.)