Following yesterday’s biggest, market-moving geopolitical event, in which a US oceanographic vessel had its underwater drone “stolen” by a Chinese warship “literally right in front of the eyes of the American crew”, we predicted that everyone would be eagerly waiting for Trump to chime in on the topic, and further escalating the diplomatic spat between the two nations which now involves China confiscating US marine drones, the first of its kind seizure in recent history:
everyone F5ing the @realDonaldTrump page
— zerohedge (@zerohedge) December 16, 2016
21 hours later, it finally happened, when the President-elect used his favorite social media outlet to Tweet that “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China”, an act which he called “unpresidented.“
China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 17, 2016
… needless to say, the social media response so far has been more focused on Trump’s spelling than his predictable outrage:
I know it’s trivial & probably helps Trump when people hype things like this, but it’s genuinely shocking he thinks it’s spelled this way pic.twitter.com/Mkw0J4Fqfd
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) December 17, 2016
Still, as misspelled tensions runs high between the two superpowers, there was some signs of de-escalation, after China said on Saturday that Beijing and the US are using military channels to “appropriately handle” the seizure by the Chinese navy of a U.S. underwater drone in the South China Sea, and a Chinese state-run newspaper said it expected a smooth resolution. The drone was taken on Thursday, the first seizure of its kind in recent memory, about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay off the Philippines, just as the USNS Bowditch was about to retrieve the unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), U.S. officials said.
“It is understood that China and the United States are using military channels to appropriately handle this issue,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement sent to Reuters, without elaborating.
The Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said a Chinese naval vessel had discovered “unidentified equipment” and checked it to prevent any navigational safety issues. It cited an unidentified Chinese source.
“This person said China has already received a claim request for the equipment from the U.S. side. Relevant parties from both sides have maintained smooth communication channels and believe this issue will be smoothly resolved,” the paper said. China’s Defense Ministry has yet to comment publicly on the issue.
Meanwhile, US officials were puzzled, and shared Trump’s misspelled indignation at the unprovoked Chinese action.
“The UUV was lawfully conducting a military survey in the waters of the South China Sea,” a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s a sovereign immune vessel, clearly marked in English not to be removed from the water – that it was U.S. property,” the official said. The Pentagon confirmed the incident at a news briefing on Friday, and said the drone used commercially available technology and sold for about $150,000.
Still, the Pentagon viewed China’s seizure seriously since it had effectively taken U.S. military property. “It is ours, and it is clearly marked as ours and we would like it back. And we would like this not to happen again,” Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said.
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Coming at a time of rising tensions about China’s military presence and deployment of weapons to the Spratly islands in the South China Seas, the seizure will add to concerns about China’s increased military presence and aggressive posture in the disputed area, including its militarization of maritime outposts. As reported previously, a U.S. research group said this week that new satellite imagery indicated China has installed weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on all seven artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea.
The drone seizure coincided with sabre-rattling from Chinese state media and some in its military establishment after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump cast doubt on whether Washington would stick to its nearly four-decades-old policy of recognizing that Taiwan is part of “one China.”
On Friday, Obama said it was appropriate for Trump to take a fresh look at U.S. policy toward Taiwan, but he cautioned that a shift could lead to significant consequences in the U.S. relationship with Beijing, as the notion that Taiwan is part of “one China” is central to China’s view of itself as a nation. For now, Trump is ignoring Obama’s advice and instead if more focused on venting about one-off “precedents” using Twitter without an autocorrect function.