China to give un­der­sea drone back, but Trump says to ‘keep it.’

Pres­i­dent-elect’s tweet may ex­tend mil­i­tary in­ci­dent

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY CHRISTO­PHER BODEEN

BEIJING | China says its mil­i­tary seized a U.S. Navy un­manned un­der­wa­ter glider in the South China Sea, but that it will give it back.

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, how­ever, says the Chi­nese govern­ment should be told “we don’t want the drone they stole back” and “let them keep it!”

This comes af­ter U.S. of­fi­cials con­firmed that they “se­cured an un­der­stand­ing” for the re­turn of the de­vice. Mr. 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 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,” Mr. Yang said.

The state­ment said that af­ter con­firm­ing 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 De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter.

But Mr. 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 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 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,” Mr. Yang, the De­fense Min­istry spokesman, said in the state­ment. “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 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.

Sen. John McCain, an Ari­zona Repub­li­can who is chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, said Sun­day on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the seizure of the drone was a “gross vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law.”

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,” Capt. Davis told re­porters. He said the drone costs about $150,000 and is largely com­mer­cial, offthe-shelf tech­nol­ogy.

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