China has defied the wishes of US President-elect Donald Trump and returned the United States Navy drone it seized out of the waters of the South China Sea last Thursday.
“After friendly consultations between China and the United States, the transfer of the US underwater drone was smoothly completed,” a statement from the Chinese Ministry of Defense said.
Pentagon officials said that the unmanned underwater vehicle, clearly marked in English as US property, was operating lawfully 50 nautical miles northwest of the Philippines’ Subic Bay, surveying the salinity, temperature and clarity of the water, when it was snatched up by a Chinese vessel.
China’s Defense Ministry issued a statement shortly afterward, saying that it was returning the drone, but also taking the time to blame the US for “hyping up” the incident.
Immediately after the seizure was reported, Trump tweeted: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented [sic] act.”
While Trump deleted the tweet an hour later, the unintentionally punny misspelling became a top trending topic on social media networks. Then, the president-elect suddenly changed his tune, randomly tweeting that China ought to just keep the drone it “stole.”
We should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back.- let them keep it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2016
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying rejected Trump’s accusation that China had “stolen” the drone, calling it “extremely inaccurate.”
“The Chinese navy discovered the device — and identified and verified it in a responsible and professional manner. Whether the device was lifted out of water and dragged in water, I think the key point was that the Chinese navy did so in a responsible and professional manner. And they did so to prevent it from harming navigational and personnel safety of passing ships,” Hua explained at a regular press conference on Monday.
“Just think about it. If somebody dropped something on the street and you found it afterwards, you would have to check and verify it before handing it back to the claimant. That’s not difficult to understand right?” Hua asked.
Apparently, at least one reporter did have difficulty understanding the analogy, asking Hua:
“You mentioned that if you find something on the street, you need to check and verify. But if you see something falling out of somebody’s pocket, you know who it belongs to. Are you saying that the Chinese Navy did not know that this was a piece of the US equipment when they picked it up?”
“I cannot see what your point is. Are you implying that the South China Sea is a possession of the US?!” Hua responded.
Chinese state media has also refrained from using the term “stolen.” Instead, China Daily announced earlier today that “Drone discovered by China returned to US.”
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