China has said it will return the US navy underwater drone it seized marking a new escalation in tensions between the two countries, but president-elect Donald Trump said Beijing should be told to “keep it”.
Trump’s remarks, in a post on Twitter, came late Saturday after both China and the US announced the drone was being returned after the usual protests and claims from either party. But a date or other details were not specified.
President-elect Trump, who has argued for a muscular US posture regarding China, said in a tweet, “We should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back.- let them keep it!”
He had accused China of stealing the vessel in an earlier post.
His second tweet came after his campaign claimed the Chinese gave up the vessel because of Trump. Spokesman Jason Miller celebrated, also on twitter, “@realDonaldTrump gets it done: “China says it will return US drone it seized …”
His boss followed up shortly, saying China should keep it.
The Chinese, who had not responded to Trump’s remarks, had seemed irritated by the reaction in the US over the drone seizure, saying in a statement, “The US side’s unilateral public hyping is inappropriate and not conducive to a resolution of the issue.”
The Chinese seized the naval drone on Thursday while it was collecting, according to the US, unclassified scientific data about 92 km northwest of Subic Bay near the Philippines in the South China Sea (SCS), which China claims.
The Unmanned Underwater Vehicle or UUV as it’s technically called, was described as an unclassified “ocean glider” system used around the world to gather military oceanographic data such as salinity, water temperature and sound speed.
It cost an estimated $150,000, which could be the reason for Trump’s generosity as he has set his sights on larger numbers to tackle such as the multi-billion dollar contract for new Air Force One plane and the expensive F-35 jets that he has talked about recently.
But the US clearly wanted the drone back. “Through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United States,” Peter Cook, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.
US experts have said that though described as unclassified, these vehicles are often used to track foreign submarines, and, as one of them told The Wall Street Journal, they “appear to be most directly relevant to anti-submarine warfare.”
The Chinese think so too. Defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said in a in a statement, “The US military has frequently dispatched naval vessels to carry out reconnaissance and military measurements in China’s water.”
He added, “China resolutely opposes this and urges the US side to stop such activities.”
But the seizure, described as a rare act by the Chinese, appears headed for a peaceful resolution, as announced by both sides.