The Chinese military has returned an unmanned U.S. Navy underwater drone, after sparking an international uproar when intercepting the vessel in international waters.
“This incident was inconsistent with both international law and standards of professionalism for conduct between navies at sea,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in a statement. “The U.S. has addressed those facts with the Chinese through the appropriate diplomatic and military channels, and have called on Chinese authorities to comply with their obligations under international law and to refrain from further efforts to impede lawful U.S. activities.”
According to Cook, the underwater drone was conducting routine operations in the international zone of the South China Sea “in full compliance with international law” and alleged that China's interception, first reported on Dec, 16, was illegal.
“The U.S. will continue to investigate the events surrounding this incident and address any additional findings with the Chinese, as part of our ongoing diplomatic dialogues and the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement Mechanism,” Cook added.
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Patrick M. Cronin, the senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, told the New York Times that he thinks China's action was a retaliatory response to President-elect Donald Trump's apparent willingness to break with the status quo between U.S. and China relations, including recognizing the leader of Taiwan, which violated China's “One China” policy.
“I see the snatched drone as a calculated act of coercive diplomacy approved at the top,” Cronin said. “I believe Beijing accelerated plans to create an early test for the new administration because Trump publicly called into question the One China policy and because China judged it safer to provoke Obama than an unpredictable Trump.”
“The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you! “ Trump tweeted on Dec. 2.
Two days later on Dec. 4, Trump replied to criticism of his handling of the incident.
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“Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn't tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea?” he wrote. “I don't think so!”