President-elect Donald Trump called China’s capture of a US Navy navy drone an “unprecedented” act on Saturday, as China agreed to return the vessel to the US in an incident that added to recent tensions between the nations.
“China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters — rips it out of the water and takes it to China in an unprecedented act,” Trump tweeted.
The drone, deployed by a US oceanographic vessel in international waters in the South China Sea, was conducting a military survey roughly 50 nautical miles northwest of the Philippines before it was seized by a Chinese warship and removed from the water on Thursday.
“It’s a sovereign immune vessel, clearly marked in English not to be removed from the water — that it was US property,” a US official told Reuters on Friday.
Chinese officials agreed to return the vessel after negotiating with the US, the Pentagon said Saturday.
“Through 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.
However, China’s Defence Ministry said it was “resolutely opposed” to this kind of activity, and accused the US of “hyping up” the incident.
China’s seizure of the vessel comes amid an increased military presence in the South China Sea.
A US think tank said Friday that China has installed antiaircraft and antimissile systems on man-made islands it has been constructing around the Spratly Islands, a strategically important chain that China occupies.
Trump, a president-elect with no formal diplomatic experience, has taken stances opposing China’s interests since winning the election in November.
He held a congratulatory phone call with the Taiwanese prime minister, Tsai Ing-wen, earlier this month, flouting decades of established US policy.
Trump has also called China a “currency manipulator,” and threatened to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese imports on the campaign trail.
The president-elect was set to continue his “thank you” tour of postelection rallies in Alabama on Saturday.
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