China to re­turn drone

U.S. “ocean glider” was seized Thurs­day; pres­i­dent-elect tweets, “Let them keep it!”

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Christo­pher Bodeen

beijing» China said Satur­day its mil­i­tary seized a U.S. Navy un­manned un­der­wa­ter glider in the South China Sea but it would give the drone back. But Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump tweeted later that 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 even­ing tweet 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 U.S. 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.

The state­ment said that af­ter ver­i­fy­ing that the de­vice was an Amer­i­can un­manned sub­merged de­vice, “China de­cided to trans­fer it to the U.S. through ap­pro­pri­ate means.”

The U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

Ear­lier in the day, he 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 un­pres­i­dented act.” He later reis­sued the tweet, cor­rect­ing the spell­ing.

The U.S. said China’s “un­law­ful seizure” came in in­ter­na­tional waters. Yet China point­edly ac­cused the U.S. of long send­ing ships “in China’s pres­ence” to con­duct “mil­i­tary sur­vey­ing.”

“China is res­o­lutely op­posed to this and re­quests the U.S. stop such ac­tiv­i­ties,” it said.

“China will con­tinue to main­tain vig­i­lance against the rel­e­vant U.S. ac­tiv­i­ties and will take nec­es­sary mea­sures to deal with them.”

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

The drone was seized while col­lect­ing un­clas­si­fied sci­en­tific data about 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 about 500 yards of each other.

He said the USNS Bowditch car­ries some small arms, but that no shots were fired.

Ac­cord­ing to the Pen­tagon, as the Chi­nese ship left with the drone, which is about 10 feet long, its only ra­dio re­sponse to the U.S. 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.

U.S. Navy file

The USNS Bowditch, a T-AGS 60 Class Oceano­graphic Sur­vey Ship, was re­cov­er­ing two drones on Thurs­day when a Chi­nese navy ship ap­proached and sent out a small boat that took one of the drones, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pen­tagon spokesman.

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