China will return
an underwater U.S. drone seized by a naval vessel this week in the
South China Sea, both countries said on Saturday, but Beijing complained
that Washington had been “hyping up” the incident.
President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to take an aggressive
approach in dealing with China over its economic and military policies,
jumped on the unusual drone seizure with a pair of provocative tweets,
accusing Beijing of stealing the equipment.
drone, known as an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), was taken on
Thursday, the first seizure of its kind in recent memory. The Pentagon
went public with its complaint after the action and said on Saturday it
had secured a deal to get the drone back.
direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an
understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United
States,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement.
drone, which the Pentagon said was operating lawfully was collecting
data about the salinity, temperature and clarity of the water about 50
nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay, off the Philippines.
It was seized just as the USNS Bowditch was about to retrieve it, U.S. officials said.
Defense Ministry said a Chinese naval vessel discovered a piece of
“unidentified equipment” and checked it to prevent any navigational
safety issues before discovering it was a U.S. drone.
decided to return it to the U.S. side in an appropriate manner, and
China and the U.S. have all along been in communication about it,” the
ministry said on its website.
this process, the U.S. side’s unilateral and open hyping up is
inappropriate, and is not beneficial to the smooth resolution of this
issue. We express regret at this,” it added.
Trump, a Republican
who takes office on Jan. 20, waded into the dispute on Twitter early on
Saturday from his seaside resort club Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida,
where he plans to spend the holidays.
steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips
it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act,” he said.
China said it would return the drone, Jason Miller, a spokesman for
Trump, tweeted a link to a news story, saying: “@realdonaldtrump gets it
however, no evidence that Trump had played any role. U.S. officials said
the negotiations took place in Beijing during the overnight hours in
the United States. Miller did not respond to requests for comment.
later, while riding in a motorcade back to his resort, Trump tweeted
his second jab. “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they
stole back – let them keep it!” he said.
has previously threatened to declare China a currency manipulator and
force changes in U.S.-Chinese trade policy, which he says has led to the
greatest theft of American jobs in history.
has also raised questions about the most sensitive part of the
U.S.-China relationship: whether Washington would stick to its nearly
four-decades-old policy of recognizing that Taiwan is part of “one
After his Nov. 8
election victory, Trump accepted a congratulatory phone call from
President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, prompting China to lodge a diplomatic
Obama said on Friday it was fine for Trump to review Washington’s policy
toward Taiwan, but he cautioned that a shift could lead to significant
consequences in the U.S. relationship with Beijing.
probably no bilateral relationship that carries more significance and
where there’s also the potential, if that relationship breaks down or
goes into a full-conflict mode, that everybody is worse off,” Obama told
The drone incident has
raised fresh concerns about China’s increased military presence and
aggressive posture in the energy-rich South China Sea, through which
about $5 trillion in trade is shipped every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the
Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to the waterway.
satellite imagery shows China has installed weapons, including
anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on all seven artificial islands
it has built in the South China Sea, a U.S. research group said this
saying whether the U.S. drone was operating in waters Beijing considers
its own, China’s Defense Ministry said U.S. ships and aircraft have for a
long period been carrying out surveillance and surveys in “the
presence” of Chinese waters.
“China is resolutely opposed to this, and demands the U.S. stops this kind of activity,” it said.
will remain on alert for these sorts of activities and take necessary
steps to deal with them, the ministry said without elaborating.
Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official
People’s Daily, earlier cited an unidentified Chinese source as saying
they believed the issue would be resolved smoothly.
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Jonathan Landay in
Washington, Josephine Mason and Meng Meng in Beijing; Editing by G
Crosse and Paul Simao)