China says it seized US Navy drone to en­sure safety of ships

‘let them keep it!’ says Trump

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

China says its mil­i­tary seized a US Navy un­manned un­der­wa­ter glider in the South China Sea but it will give the drone back. But Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump says the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment should be told “we don’t want the drone they stole back” and “let them keep it!”

This comes af­ter United States of­fi­cials had con­firmed that they “se­cured an un­der­stand­ing” for the re­turn of the de­vice. Trump’s tweet Satur­day evening may ex­tend one of the most se­ri­ous in­ci­dents be­tween the Amer­i­can and the Chi­nese mil­i­taries in years.

The Chi­nese navy on Thurs­day seized the drone, which the Pen­tagon said was be­ing op­er­ated by civil­ian con­trac­tors to con­duct oceanic re­search. The US lodged a for­mal diplo­matic com­plaint and de­manded the drone back.

Chi­nese De­fense Min­istry spokesman Yang Yu­jun is­sued a state­ment late Satur­day say­ing that a Chi­nese navy lifeboat dis­cov­ered an un­known de­vice in the South China Sea on Thurs­day. “In or­der to pre­vent this de­vice from pos­ing a dan­ger to the safe nav­i­ga­tion of pass­ing ships and per­son­nel, the Chi­nese lifeboat adopted a pro­fes­sional and re­spon­si­ble at­ti­tude in in­ves­ti­gat­ing and ver­i­fy­ing the de­vice,”Yang said.

Ap­pro­pri­ate means

The state­ment said that af­ter con­firm­ing that the de­vice was an Amer­i­can un­manned sub­merged de­vice, “China de­cided to trans­fer it to the US through ap­pro­pri­ate means.” The US said that “through di­rect en­gage­ment with Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties, we have se­cured an un­der­stand­ing that the Chi­nese will re­turn” the un­manned un­der­wa­ter ve­hi­cle, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from Peter Cook, spokesman for US De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter.

But Trump, af­ter hold­ing a rally to thank sup­port­ers for his elec­tion, took to Twit­ter to crit­i­cize the deal. “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back.- let them keep it!” the pres­i­dent-elect tweeted Satur­day evening.

He ear­lier in the day had blasted the seizure. Mis­spelling “un­prece­dented,” he tweeted: “China steals United States Navy re­search drone in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters - rips it out of wa­ter and takes it to China in un­prece­dented act.” He later reis­sued the tweet, cor­rect­ing the spell­ing.

The US said China’s “un­law­ful seizure” came in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters. Yet China point­edly ac­cused the US of long send­ing ships “in China’s pres­ence” to con­duct “mil­i­tary sur­vey­ing.” “China is res­o­lutely op­posed to this and re­quests the US stop such ac­tiv­i­ties,” it said. “China will con­tinue to main­tain vig­i­lance against the rel­e­vant US ac­tiv­i­ties and will take nec­es­sary mea­sures to deal with them.”

Ear­lier Satur­day, China’s for­eign min­istry said the na­tion’s mil­i­tary was in con­tact with its Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts on “ap­pro­pri­ately han­dling” the in­ci­dent, though it of­fered no de­tails on what dis­cus­sions were un­der­way.

The drone was seized while col­lect­ing un­clas­si­fied sci­en­tific data about 92 kilo­me­ters (57 miles) north­west of Su­bic Bay near the Philip­pines in the South China Sea, which China claims vir­tu­ally in its en­tirety, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pen­tagon spokesman, said Fri­day. “It is ours. It’s clearly marked as ours. We would like it back, and we would like this not to hap­pen again,” Davis told re­porters. He said the drone costs about $150,000 and is largely com­mer­cial, off-the-shelf tech­nol­ogy.

The USNS Bowditch, which is not a com­bat ship, was stopped in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters Thurs­day af­ter­noon and re­cov­er­ing two of the glid­ers when the Chi­nese ship ap­proached, Davis said. The two ves­sels were within some 450 me­ters (500 yards) of each other. He said the USNS Bowditch car­ries some small arms, but that no shots were fired.

Re­turn nor­mal op­er­a­tions

Ac­cord­ing to the Pen­tagon, as the Chi­nese ship left with the drone, which is about 3 me­ters (10 feet) long, its only ra­dio re­sponse to the US ves­sel was, “We are re­turn­ing to nor­mal op­er­a­tions.” Bon­nie Glaser, se­nior ad­viser for Asia at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, said the seizure of the glider oc­curred inside the ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone of the Philip­pines, not China, and ap­peared to be a vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law.

China de­lin­eates its South China Sea claims with a roughly drawn sea bor­der known as the “nine-dash line” that runs along the west coast of the Philip­pines. How­ever, it hasn’t ex­plic­itly said whether it con­sid­ers those wa­ters as sov­er­eign ter­ri­tory, and says it doesn’t dis­rupt the pas­sage of other na­tions’ ship­ping through the area. The US doesn’t take a po­si­tion on sovereignty claims, but in­sists on free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion, in­clud­ing the right of its naval ves­sels to con­duct train­ing and other op­er­a­tions in the sea.

Davis said that the in­ci­dent could be the first time in re­cent his­tory that China has taken a US naval ves­sel. Some ob­servers have called it the most sig­nif­i­cant dis­pute be­tween the sides’ mil­i­taries since the April 2001 midair col­li­sion be­tween a US Navy sur­veil­lance air­craft and a Chi­nese fighter jet about 110 kilo­me­ters (70 miles) from China’s Hainan is­land that led to the death of a Chi­nese pi­lot.

The drone seizure seemed likely to fray the al­ready tense re­la­tions be­tween US and China. Beijing was an­gered by Trump’s de­ci­sion to talk by phone with Tai­wanese Pres­i­dent Tsai Ing-wen on Dec. 2, and by his later com­ments that he did not feel “bound by a one-China pol­icy” re­gard­ing the sta­tus of Tai­wan, un­less the US could gain trade or other ben­e­fits from China. China con­sid­ers the self-gov­ern­ing is­land its own ter­ri­tory to be re­cov­ered by force if it deems nec­es­sary.

There also have been in­creased ten­sions over Beijing’s on­go­ing mil­i­tary buildup in the South China Sea, mainly the de­vel­op­ment and mil­i­ta­riza­tion of man-made shoals and is­lands aimed at ex­tend­ing China’s reach in the strate­gi­cally vi­tal area, through which about $5 tril­lion in global trade passes an­nu­ally.

—AP

OPEN WA­TER: In this un­dated photo re­leased by the US Navy Vis­ual News Ser­vice, the USNS Bowditch, a T-AGS 60 Class Oceano­graphic Sur­vey Ship.

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