An untested Trump may add fric­tion

US pres­i­dent-elect makes ac­cu­sa­tion on Twitter af­ter drone is­sue re­solved

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHANG ZHIHAO zhangzhi­hao@chi­

US pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s in­ex­pe­ri­ence in diplomacy — demon­strated over the week­end af­ter the Chi­nese Navy’s seizure and re­turn of an un­manned US drone in the South China Sea — might lead to more con­fronta­tions be­tween China and the US as well as fis­sures be­tween the US and its al­lies, Chi­nese ex­perts on in­ter­na­tional stud­ies warned.

Trump, whose in­au­gu­ra­tion is five weeks away, took the drone is­sue to Twitter on Satur­day, ac­cus­ing Bei­jing of “steal­ing” the equip­ment in an “un­prece­dented act”.

He posted an­other tweet on Sun­day, say­ing, “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back — let them keep it!”

By then, China and the United States had al­ready agreed on re­turn­ing the un­der­wa­ter US drone seized on Thurs­day in the South China Sea, ac­cord­ing to state­ments by the Pen­tagon and China’s De­fense Min­istry.

The drone, a 3-me­ter-long un­manned un­der­wa­ter ve­hi­cle, was launched by USNS Bowditch to col­lect bathy­met­ric data as well as the wa­ter’s salin- ity, tem­per­a­ture and cur­rent flow, ac­cord­ing to the Pen­tagon.

It was op­er­at­ing about 93 kilo­me­ters north­west of Su­bic Bay off the Philip­pines, and was re­trieved by a Chi­nese naval lifeboat to pre­vent “dan­ger to the safe nav­i­ga­tion of pass­ing ships and per­son­nel”, China’s De­fense Min­istry spokesman Yang Yu­jun said in a state­ment on Satur­day.

“The Chi­nese boat adopted a pro­fes­sional and re­spon­si­ble at­ti­tude in in­ves­ti­gat­ing and ver­i­fy­ing the de­vice,” Yang said. He added that af­ter iden­ti­fy­ing the de­vice as be­long­ing to the US, China de­cided to hand it over in a proper way.

“The fuss that the US uni­lat­er­ally made was in­ap­pro­pri­ate and did not con­trib­ute to a fa­vor­able so­lu­tion to the prob­lem,” said Yang. “We ex­press re­gret over this mat­ter.”

China res­o­lutely op­poses the US mil­i­tary’s long-stand­ing prac­tice of con­duct­ing close-in re­con­nais­sance and mil­i­tary sur­veys within Chi­nese wa­ters, Yang said, adding, “China will main­tain

vig­i­lance against the rel­e­vant US ac­tiv­i­ties and take nec­es­sary mea­sures in re­sponse.”

The USNS Bowditch is an “in­fa­mous” mil­i­tary re­con­nais­sance ship that has been sur­vey­ing China’s coastal wa­ters since 2002, said Ma Gang, a pro­fes­sor at the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Na­tional De­fense Univer­sity.

“Oceanic data is cru­cial for ship for­ma­tions, sub­ma­rine routes and bat­tle plan­ning,” Ma said. “There­fore, it is nor­mal for the Chi­nese Navy to be sus­pi­cious of Bowditch’s ac­tiv­i­ties given past ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Ma said fric­tions be­tween China and the US would in­crease if the diplo­mat­i­cally inept Trump con­tin­ues to un­der­mine China’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity. “Trump might even­tu­ally learn the hard way that China’s sovereignty is ab­so­lutely non­nego­tiable,” Ma said.

Zhong Feit­eng, a se­nior re­searcher on re­la­tions among ma­jor pow­ers at the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences, said Trump ini­tially hyped the drone is­sue as lever­age against China. But he quickly dis­carded the is­sue when China and the US re­solved it peace­fully.

“The whole drone fi­asco proves that Trump only cares for things that ben­e­fit him­self, and will aban­don them once they lose value,” Zhong said. “This must be dis­heart­en­ing for US al­lies like South Korea and Ja­pan.”


A woman and three chil­dren make their way through heavy smog in Dongzhi­men, Bei­jing, on Sun­day.

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