Trump Accuses China of “Stealing” U.S. Navy Drone

The Defense Ministry of China accused U.S. of “hyping up” the issue

President-elect Donald Trump weighed in on the controversial seizure of a U.S. Navy drone by China in international water in a tweet that accused China of stealing it and ripping “it out of water.”

The latest tweet came at around 7:30 a.m. Saturday. It read:-

China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented [sic] act.

Some observers believe that this seizure of a drone is one of the most significant disputes between China and U.S. in years. The incident follows the post-election Trump call with the president of Taiwan.

China said earlier Saturday that its military was in contact with American counterparts on “appropriately handling” the seizure of the U.S. Navy unmanned underwater glider.

The one-sentence statement by the foreign ministry did not provide any details on why the drone was seized on Thursday, or what discussions were underway between the U.S. and China’s military.

According to (our) understanding, the U.S. and Chinese sides are working on appropriately handling this matter through channels between the two militaries.

The second statement came from the Defense Ministry (which did not immediately respond to the questions on the issue) after Trump’s tweet, which accused U.S. of “hyping up” the issue and overreacting to the incident.

Pentagon said that the drone was being operated by civilian contractors to conduct oceanic research. The U.S. also added it has issued a formal diplomatic complaint about the incident and demanded the drone’s return.

Navy Capt. Jeff David, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday that the drone was collecting unclassified scientific data about 57 miles northwest of Subic Bay near the Philippines in the South China Sea, which is claimed by China in its entirety.

Regardless of the outcome of the incident, it is going to deteriorate already tense relations between the U.S. and China further.

Beijing’s ongoing military buildup in the South China Sea has also increased tensions in the recent past, mainly the development and militarization of man-made islands and shoals aimed at enhancing China’s reach in the strategically point area through which almost $5  trillion in global trade passes annually.

Only a couple of reports appeared about the drone’s seizure in China’s state media. An unidentified military official was quoted as saying that a “smooth resolution” to the issue is expected in the newspaper published by China’s ruling Communist Party.

The Global Times quoted the official as saying:-

A Chinese navy ship discovered an unidentified device Thursday and was checking on it for the sake of maritime safety. China has received the U.S. request to return the device; communication is open between the relevant departments of the two sides, and I believe this matter will obtain a smooth resolution.

In a separate report in the same newspaper, retired Chinese Admiral Yang Yi was quoted as saying that it was well within China’s rights to seize the drone. He also added the issue did not qualify as a “military confrontation.”