China’s defense ministry says it has engaged in talks with the U.S. about returning a U.S. underwater drone that the Chinese Navy stole out of the South China Sea on Thursday, an act that has escalated tensions between the two superpowers over the vast expanse of international water that Beijing claims as its own.
The Chinese defense ministry issued a statement on Saturday night saying it will return the underwater drone hours after President-elect Donald Trump waded into the diplomatic row with a tweet condemning its theft by a Chinese Navy vessel that was shadowing a U.S. Navy oceanographic survey ship some 50 miles west of the Philippines, reported Fairfax Media.
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The brightly colored 10-foot-long “ocean glider” drone was unlawfully taken as the U.S. vessel — the Bowditch — was attempting to retrieve it, says Bloomberg, quoting a U.S. Defense Department statement.
Requests from the Bowditch for the Chinese to desist from taking the underwater drone were ignored, said the report.
The Pentagon has stated the drone was clearly marked.
The seizing of the drone was “one of the most brazen actions that the PLA Navy has taken against U.S. Navy for a very long time,” said Ashley Townshend, a research fellow at the U.S. studies center at the University of Sydney, according to Bloomberg.
“Against a background of rising tensions in the South China Sea and Trump’s increasingly hawkish comments on China policy, this incident will be a serious test for U.S.-China relations,” said Townshend.
Watch this report from Newsy on the underwater drone theft:
The theft occurred in the same week as reports of Beijing further militarizing some of its man-made islands in the contested area and their flying of a nuclear-capable bomber around Taiwan, not long after President-elect Trump took a call from Taiwan’s leader, an act that infuriated Beijing.
Over the past several years, Beijing has been busy turning atolls and rocky outcrops into maritime outposts, says the Pentagon. Around 3,000 acres of new territory have been built on seven reefs.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have contesting claims in the South China Sea, but what Beijing is doing, and its military buildup, dwarfs all of their efforts combined.
In response to its acts in the South China Sea, the Americans have sent their navy into the region on four freedom of navigation patrols in the past year, with the last one being done in October, says Reuters.
Watch this video about China’s militarizing of all seven of its outposts in the Spratly Islands in this video from TomoNews US:
Seizing US underwater drone an act of war
China expert and author Gordon Chang likened Beijing’s actions in seizing the underwater drone as an act of war.
“Whether you seize a drone or an aircraft carrier, the principle is just the same. This is an act of piracy, this is an act of war against the United States,” Chang told Fox Business.
Chang criticized the Obama administration’s handling the South China Sea issue over the past several years, describing it as ineffective. “If nothing is done, then it is just going to get worse,” Chang said.
“The Chinese are not going to get serious until we show them that we are,” he said. “We cannot allow for foreign country’s taking U.S. assets in international waters.”
U.S. Army veteran Gen. Jack Keane agreed that the response by the Obama administration regarding China’s actions in the South China Sea has been ineffective.
Keane told Fox Business that now the U.S. is in a position that it won’t be able to avoid confrontation in the South China Sea if this is how Beijing is going to behave. America, he said, must deal with this reality.
“My response to this provocation, this confrontation, would be to park some warships out there in the South China Sea, not just pass through there — but just park them there,” Keane said.
“Let them know we intend to be in that area, this is international waters, this is a global common, and we have a right to be there and make it understood, in no uncertain terms, that we are going to support our allies in the region,” he said.
Beijing ignored the results of a tribunal with the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in July that ruled against China’s claims to virtually the entire 1.4-million-square-mile chunk of the South China Sea.
See more commentary from retired U.S. Army General Jack Keane in this Fox News video: