China to give undersea drone back, but Trump says to ‘keep it.’
President-elect’s tweet may extend military incident
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.