Drone seizure a sign of tougher times be­tween US, China

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

China’s seizure of an Amer­i­can un­der­wa­ter drone is the lat­est sign that the Pa­cific Ocean’s dom­i­nant power and its ris­ing Asian chal­lenger are headed for more con­fronta­tion once US Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump takes of­fice, an­a­lysts said yes­ter­day.

Chi­nese po­lit­i­cal ex­perts said China seized the glider in the South China Sea last week to send a strong warn­ing to Trump not to test Bei­jing’s re­solve over the sen­si­tive is­sue of Tai­wan, the self-ruled is­land Bei­jing con­sid­ers part of its ter­ri­tory. Mean­while, smaller coun­tries in South­east Asia are watch­ing the back-and-forth closely for signs that US naval dom­i­nance might be di­min­ish­ing, oth­ers said.

Trump’s Dec 2 phone call with Tai­wanese Pres­i­dent Tsai Ing-wen was the first time an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent or pres­i­dent-elect has pub­licly spo­ken to Tai­wan’s leader since Wash­ing­ton broke off its for­mal diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship in 1979 at China’s be­hest. Trump later said he did not feel “bound by a one-China pol­icy” un­less the US could gain trade or other ben­e­fits from China.

Bei­jing re­gards any ac­knowl­edge­ment that Tai­wan has its own head of state as a grave in­sult. The drone seizure “is a kind of re­sponse from China to Trump’s re­cent provo­ca­tions on the is­sue,” said Ni Lex­iong, a mil­i­tary ex­pert at the Shang­hai Uni­ver­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Law. “It can be re­garded as a warn­ing to coun­tries such as the US and Ja­pan on their at­tempts to chal­lenge China’s core in­ter­ests.” The Pen­tagon said a Chi­nese ship seized the US drone Thurs­day af­ter­noon in an area about 92 kilo­me­ters north­west of Su­bic Bay near the Philip­pines. Sev­eral US. an­a­lysts say the seizure oc­curred in­side the ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone of the Philip­pines, which would ap­pear to vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional law.

China’s de­fense min­istry said its navy seized the un­der­wa­ter glider to en­sure the safety of pass­ing ships and that it would turn over the de­vice us­ing un­spec­i­fied “ap­pro­pri­ate means.” Chi­nese for­eign min­istry spokes­woman Hua Chun­y­ing on Mon­day re­it­er­ated the de­fense min­istry’s ob­jec­tions to what she called US “re­con­nais­sance and sur­veys in Chi­nese wa­ters.”

State me­dia have con­tin­ued to point­edly at­tack Trump, with the Com­mu­nist Party-con­trolled Global Times pub­lish­ing an editorial Mon­day head­lined, “‘Un pres­i­dented’ Trump adds fuel to fire.” “He seemed emo­tion­ally up­set, but no one knows what he wanted to say,” the editorial said. “Trump is not be­hav­ing as a pres­i­dent who will be­come mas­ter of the White House in a month. He bears no sense of how to lead a su­per­power.”

Trump had tweeted Satur­day that de­spite China’s as­sur­ances that it would re­turn the drone, the US should “let them keep it!” Ear­lier in the day, he mis­spelled “un­prece­dented,” say­ing: “China steals United States Navy re­search drone in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters - rips it out of wa­ter and takes it to China in un pres­i­dented act.” He later sent a cor­rected tweet.

Ed­i­to­ri­als and tweets aside, Trump will con­front as pres­i­dent an in­creas­ingly as­sertive China that wants to ex­tend its reach in the South China Sea, a strate­gi­cally vi­tal area through which about $5 tril­lion in global trade passes each year. Sev­eral of China’s smaller neigh­bors have protested China’s ter­ri­to­rial claims there and are closely watch­ing Trump’s han­dling of the dis­puted sea.

“These are small coun­tries that re­al­ize that the best way to sur­vive and pros­per is not to side with any of the great pow­ers,” said Richard Hey­dar­ian, an an­a­lyst and con­sul­tant in the Philip­pines. “They’re all brac­ing not only for un­pre­dictabil­ity, but also for stormy wa­ters in­volv­ing US and China pri­mar­ily,” he said. China claims al­most the en­tire South China Sea as its own with a roughly drawn bor­der known as the “ninedash line” run­ning along west­ern Philippine is­lands. Even as an in­ter­na­tional tribunal in June largely re­jected China’s ex­pan­sive claims, the Chi­nese mil­i­tary con­tin­ues to run naval pa­trols and train­ing flights over dis­puted is­lands in the area as well as the ad­join­ing East China Sea.

Philippine De­fense Sec­re­tary Delfin Lorenzana said yes­ter­day that the drone in­ci­dent, which hap­pened near his coun­try’s ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters and within its in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized Ex­clu­sive Eco­nomic Zone, “is very trou­bling.” “I be­lieve that the United States and China can reach an am­i­ca­ble res­o­lu­tion to pre­vent any fur­ther in­ci­dents from tak­ing place,” Lorenzana said in a state­ment.

Collin Koh, a re­search fel­low on naval af­fairs at the S Ra­jarat­nam School of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in Sin­ga­pore, said the drone in­ci­dent was “not some­thing that will be taken lightly by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.” Amer­ica’s naval dom­i­nance was “slowly be­ing un­der­mined by China,” Koh said, cit­ing the growth in China’s naval tech­nol­ogy and its moves in dis­puted wa­ters. “This is a symp­tom of a great power ri­valry,” he said. — AP

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