Foreign Relations Lawmakers: 'Brazen' Drone Seizure by China Calls for Tough Response

WASHINGTON -- A member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said not only should China return the U.S. Navy drone it seized in the South China Sea, but the administration should demand an apology from Beijing.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said President Obama should also recall the U.S. ambassador from Beijing.

“This brazenly hostile act is outrageous and must be met with a firm response. The U.S. Navy was operating in international waters conducting a standard exercise," said Gardner, chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy. "...The United States must send a message to China, unilaterally and through the United Nations, that if its hostile behavior in the South China Sea continues, there will be repercussions.”

According to the Pentagon, China "unlawfully seized" the drone Thursday 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," press secretary Peter Cook said. "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,"

Cook added. "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."

Cook said the Defense Department has called on China through "appropriate government-to-government channels" to return the drone.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) called the seizure "a remarkably brazen violation of international law."

"No matter its motivation, China needs to explain its actions and immediately return the undersea drone, untampered with, to the United States," Cardin said. “China’s increasingly aggressive behavior in the South China Sea – including the militarization of the artificial features that it has built in the region, in direct contradiction of a pledge made by President Xi not to do so – is deeply disturbing, and not consistent with the actions of a nation seeking to build a constructive and cooperative relationship with the United States."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the "brazen provocation fits a pattern of increasingly destabilizing Chinese behavior, including bullying its neighbors and militarizing the South China Sea."

"And this behavior will continue until it is met with a strong and determined U.S. response, which until now the Obama administration has failed to provide. Freedom of the seas and the principles of the rules-based order are not self-enforcing."

McCain emphasized that the incident underscores that "we are not witnessing a China committed to a ‘peaceful rise.’"

"Instead, we are confronting an assertive China that has demonstrated its willingness to use intimidation and coercion to disrupt the rules-based order that has been the foundation of security and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region for seven decades," he said. "As I have said repeatedly, we must adapt U.S. policy and strategy to reflect this reality and ensure we have the necessary military forces, capabilities, and posture in the region to deter, and if necessary, defeat aggression.”