China seized a U.S. underwater unmanned vehicle (UUV), commonly known as a drone, in the international waters in the South China Sea about 100 miles off the Philippine port at Subic Bay on Dec. 15, CNN reports. The Chinese Ministry of National Defense confirmed on Dec. 17 that it will return the drone, but said that U.S.’ “unilateral move to dramatize the issue in the process” is inappropriate. The ministry said U.S. ships and aircraft have for a long period been carrying out surveillance and surveys in "the presence" of Chinese waters and China opposes these actions. The ministry also said it will remain “vigilant for any relevant activities” and take necessary measures in response. Although China has agreed to return the UUV, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump slammed Beijing on Twitter, calling the action “stealing” and “unprecedented.” The drone incident once again raised concerns about China’s frequent military presence in the South China Sea, CNBC reports.

Earlier on Dec. 15, Admiral Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Navy Pacific Command, said in a speech that the U.S. is ready to confront China if it continues to overreach maritime and territorial claims in the South China Sea, Reuters reports. New satellite imagery shows China has installed weapons on each of the seven artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea, according to The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a U.S. research group. The U.S. called on China to respect the findings of the arbitration court in The Hague earlier this year which invalidated its territorial claims. In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽) said the situation in the South China Sea is currently stable and that China hopes the U.S. can “abide by its promises on not taking sides on the sovereignty dispute in the South China Sea.”

On Dec.16, Chinese and Philippine coast guards met for the first time and agreed to move forward on maritime cooperation, Inquirer reports. The two-day meeting in Manila on establishing a Joint Coast Guard Committee (JCGC) came just days after images showed that China had installed defensive weapons on artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to terminate a pact which allows U.S. troop to train in the Philippines, Reuters reports. The speech on Dec. 17 came after a U.S. government aid agency deferred a vote on a renewal of a major development assistance package for the Philippines over concerns about extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s anti-drug war. Duterte praised China and Russia for being friendly to the Philippines and said that he does not need money from the U.S. The U.S. embassy in Manila said in a statement that Washington would work closely with the Duterte administration to address any concerns it may have, The Guardian reports.

Malaysia has urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to work together on resolving disputes in the South China Sea, TODAY reports. Malaysia’s Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Dec.18 that Malaysia is firmly against the aggressive deployment of military assets in territories in the South China Sea, especially by China. Hussein said ASEAN member states should take action to prevent tension among themselves, for example, the navy should increase monitoring activities to prevent incidents involving fishermen or maritime authorities in the region.

Editor: Edward White