So, China’s navy seized an unmanned underwater vehicle belonging to the United States navy in the South China Sea, and what does one do as president-elect of the United States? Donald Trump, as he usually does, took to Twitter on Saturday but had to delete his tweet when he found it going viral for all the wrong reasons.
“China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented [sic] act,” wrote the property tycoon, apparently without consulting his spellcheck.
Trump did not delete the tweet until an hour later, replacing it with a new post that included a correct spelling of the word ‘unprecedented’. By then, however, #unpresidented had become the top trending topic on Twitter as critics skewered the soon-to-be 45th president of the United States for the unintentionally punny misspelling.
— Simran Jeet Singh (@SikhProf) December 17, 2016
— Jules (@britpid) December 17, 2016
Because they found a black man's brilliance threatening, and a white man's inadequacy relatable, they chose Donald Trump. #unpresidented
— Jonas Lefkowitch (@JonasLeft) December 17, 2016
There's never, ever been a President so mocked everywhere. And he's not even President yet – what a complete loser! #unpresidented
— #NotMyPresident (@France4Hillary) December 17, 2016
unpresidented (Adjective): When pro-military Americans support a man who mocks POWs while having 5 deferments #unpresidented
— jeffpearlman (@jeffpearlman) December 17, 2016
Even Merriam-Webster, the dictionary, could not resist a barb:
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) December 17, 2016
Evan Osnos of the New Yorker, who spent six years as the magazine’s China correspondent, had a more serious take:
Trump thinks goading China is like calling Cruz ‘lying Ted.’ Just fun, right? Not how China sees it. He won’t learn that until too late.
— Evan Osnos (@eosnos) December 17, 2016
In a statement published on its official website, the Chinese Ministry of Defense said it was returning the drone, but blamed the US for “hyping” the incident.
“China decided to return it to the US side in an appropriate manner, and China and the US have all along been in communication about it,” read the statement. “During this process, the US side’s unilateral and open hyping up is inappropriate, and is not beneficial to the smooth resolution of this issue. We express regret at this.”
The statement did not indicate whether the drone was found in what Beijing considers its own territorial waters, only going so far as to say that the American ships have been carrying out surveillance “in the presence“ of Chinese waters “for a long period.”
“China is resolutely opposed to this, and demands the U.S. stops this kind of activity,” added the statement.
Pentagon officials have said that the vessel, clearly marked in English as US property, was operating lawfully 50 nautical miles northwest of the Philippines’ Subic Bay to survey the salinity, temperature and clarity of the water.
Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described the seizure as “a remarkably brazen violation of international law.”
“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 spokesperson Jeff Davis said.
Earlier this month, Trump brought on a diplomatic row when he talked on the phone with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, breaking almost 40 years of diplomatic protocol. But even as China showed a measure of restraint by refusing to personally criticize him, Trump then doubled down on his remarks by openly questioning why the United States should follow the “one China” policy during a TV interview.
In his final end-of-year White House press conference, president Barack Obama said that “all foreign policy should be subject to fresh eyes”, but warned Trump to think twice before embarking on a major departure from a nearly four-decades-old US policy of recognising Taiwan as part of “one China.”
“If you are going to upend this understanding, you have to have thought through whatever the consequences are,” said Obama.
Singapore, meanwhile, continues to be kept in the dark over the fate of its 9 armored vehicles which were seized by Hong Kong customs from cargo ship sailing from Taiwan to Singapore last month. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it lodged a formal protest with Singapore.
Party mouthpiece, the Global Times, has appeared to advocate for the destruction of the vehicles. “Singapore’s image in China is now so rotten that ordinary Chinese people think the best thing to do with the ‘confiscated’ armored vehicles that ‘walked right into our trap’ is to send them to the steel mills to be melted down,” it said.
Charles Liu contributed to this story.