Tensions Linger Over Seizure of Survey Drone in South China Sea

20-Dec-2016 Intellasia | WSJ | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Political fallout continues despite announcement that device will be returned to US

The political fallout over China’s seizure of an American underwater drone continued Sunday, even after both countries said China would return the device.

Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) called China’s action a “gross violation of international law” in an interview on CNN Sunday. The Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee also criticised the US over the incident, suggesting its policies have been emboldening countries such as China and Iran. “There’s no strength on the part of the United States of America. Everybody’s taking advantage of it. And hopefully that will change soon,” McCain said.

The comments came after both the Pentagon and China’s Defense Ministry on Saturday said China would return the drone, which it had seized Thursday in the South China Sea. China said its navy rescue ship had retrieved what was at the time an “unknown device” because it posed a safety risk to ships and sailors.


The incident marked an escalation of China’s efforts to block US naval surveillance and came days after President-elect Donald Trump angered Beijing by suggesting his administration might abrogate the “One-China policy” – a decadeslong agreement on the status of Taiwan – if China doesn’t make concessions to US interests. He cited issues including trade, China’s military buildup in the South China Sea and North Korea’s nuclear programme.

“I don’t know why we have to be bound by a One-China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things,” Trump said a week ago during an interview on Fox News Sunday.

Trump again took aim at China on Saturday over the drone seizure: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act,” Trump wrote in a Twitter message. His initial tweet called the seizure an “unpresidented act” but he later corrected the spelling error.

The incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said in an interview on Fox News Sunday that he doesn’t think Trump has been improperly goading China with his recent rhetoric: “Look, I don’t think it’s all that provocative, to tell you the truth,” he said. “The Chinese ripped a drone out of the water. President-elect Trump said this is an unprecedented act, totally inappropriate…I think 80 percent of Americans think it is inappropriate to rip a drone out of the water.”

At the same time, Priebus walked back the possibility of any immediate shift in the US’s longstanding policy on Taiwan.

“We’re not suggesting that we’re revisiting One-China policy right now,” said Priebus.

Beijing has considered Taiwan a breakaway province since Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists set up a government there in 1949 following years of civil war. The US’s agreement to rescind diplomatic recognition of the government in Taiwan and uphold a One-China policy was a precondition for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between US and China in 1979.




Category: China

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