China is expected to return a U.S. Navy drone it seized in international waters by Tuesday, two U.S. defense officials told Fox News – a transfer that could help smooth over a significant dispute between the two militaries.
The transfer will take place in the "vicinity" of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, the body of water where the drone originally was taken.
A U.S. Navy warship, likely a guided-missile destroyer, will be present to accept the underwater drone. The Pentagon calls the machine an "ocean glider," an unclassified system used to map the sea floor and collect ocean data.
Officials said the same Chinese ship that stole the drone, Dalang III, will return it to the U.S. government. There is no immediate indication the American underwater research drone ever left the Chinese ship.
China’s seizure of the drone prompted a formal objection from the U.S. government last week, which led to discussions about the return of the drone.
Amid those conversations, President-elect Donald Trump also weighed in, first blasting China on Twitter for stealing the drone and ripping it “out of the water” – and later saying: “We should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back.- let them keep it!”
The Chinese defense ministry said over the weekend it took the drone to ensure “safe navigation of passing ships.”