Drone seizure lat­est sign of tougher times with Bei­jing

Warn­ing tests Trump, U.S. naval dom­i­nance

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY NO­MAAN MER­CHANT

BEI­JING | 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 Don­ald Trump be­comes pres­i­dent, an­a­lysts said Mon­day.

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

Mr. Trump’s Dec. 2 phone call with Tai­wanese Pres­i­dent Tsai Ing-wen was the first time an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent or pres­i­dent-elect has spo­ken pub­licly to Tai­wan’s leader since Washington broke off its for­mal diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship in 1979 at China’s be­hest. Mr. Trump later said he did not feel “bound by a one-China pol­icy” un­less the U.S. could gain trade or other ben­e­fits from China. Bei­jing re­gards any ac­knowl­edg­ment 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 an­a­lyst at the Shang­hai Univer­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Law. “It can be re­garded as a warn­ing to coun­tries such as the U.S. and Ja­pan on their at­tempts to chal­lenge China’s core in­ter­ests.”

The Pen­tagon said a Chi­nese ship seized the U.S. drone Thurs­day af­ter­noon in an area about 57 miles north­west of Su­bic Bay near the Philip­pines. Sev­eral U.S. an­a­lysts said the drone was seized in­side the ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone of the Philip­pines, which would ap­pear to vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional law.

The Chi­nese 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 U.S. “re­con­nais­sance and sur­veys in Chi­nese wa­ters.”

State me­dia have con­tin­ued to point­edly at­tack Mr. Trump. The Com­mu­nist Party-con­trolled Global Times pub­lish­ing a mock­ing edi­to­rial Mon­day head­lined, “‘Un­pres­i­dented’ 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.”

Mr. Trump tweeted Satur­day that de­spite China’s as­sur­ances that it would re­turn the drone, the U.S. 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 un­pres­i­dented act.” He later sent a cor­rected tweet.

Edi­to­ri­als and tweets aside, Pres­i­dent Trump will con­front 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 Mr. Trump’s han­dling of the dis­puted sea.

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