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Sunday, December 18, 2016, 09:23

An untested Trump may add friction

By Zhang Zhihao

An untested Trump may add friction
In this undated photo released by the US Navy Visual News Service, the USNS Bowditch, a T-AGS 60 Class Oceanographic Survey Ship, sails in open water. The US Navy oceanographic survey ship was recovering two drones on Dec 15, 2016 when a Chinese navy ship captured one drone. China said it would hand over the drone to the US in an appropriate manner. (CHINFO, Navy Visual News via AP)

US president-elect Donald Trump's inexperience in diplomacy - demonstrated over the weekend after the Chinese Navy's seizure and return of an unmanned US drone in the South China Sea - might lead to more confrontations between China and the US as well as fissures between the US and its allies, Chinese experts on international studies warned.

Trump, whose inauguration is five weeks away, took the drone issue to Twitter on Saturday, accusing Beijing of "stealing" the equipment in an "unprecedented act".

He posted another tweet on Sunday, saying, "We should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back - let them keep it!"

By then, China and the United States had already agreed on returning the underwater US drone seized on Thursday in the South China Sea, according to statements by the Pentagon and China's Defense Ministry.

The drone, a 3-meter-long unmanned underwater vehicle, was launched by USNS Bowditch to collect bathymetric data as well as the water's salinity, temperature and current flow, according to the Pentagon.

It was operating about 93 kilometers northwest of Subic Bay off the Philippines, and was retrieved by a Chinese naval lifeboat to prevent "danger to the safe navigation of passing ships and personnel", China's Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said in a statement on Saturday.

An untested Trump may add friction
In this July 12, 2016 photo, Defense Ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun addressing a press conference in Beijing. (Photo provided by Ministry of National Defense)

"The Chinese boat adopted a professional and responsible attitude in investigating and verifying the device," Yang said. He added that after identifying the device as belonging to the US, China decided to hand it over in a proper way.

The fuss that the US unilaterally made was inappropriate and did not contribute to a favorable solution to the problem

Yang Yujun, Defense Ministry spokesperson

"The fuss that the US unilaterally made was inappropriate and did not contribute to a favorable solution to the problem," said Yang. "We express regret over this matter."

China resolutely opposes the US military's long-standing practice of conducting close-in reconnaissance and military surveys within Chinese waters, Yang said, adding, "China will maintain vigilance against the relevant US activities and take necessary measures in response."

The USNS Bowditch is an "infamous" military reconnaissance ship that has been surveying China's coastal waters since 2002, said Ma Gang, a professor at the People's Liberation Army National Defense University.

"Oceanic data is crucial for ship formations, submarine routes and battle planning," Ma said. "Therefore, it is normal for the Chinese Navy to be suspicious of Bowditch's activities given past experience."

Ma said frictions between China and the US would increase if the diplomatically inept Trump continues to undermine China's territorial integrity. "Trump might eventually learn the hard way that China's sovereignty is absolutely nonnegotiable," Ma said.

Zhong Feiteng, a senior researcher on relations among major powers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Trump initially hyped the drone issue as leverage against China. But he quickly discarded the issue when China and the US resolved it peacefully.

"The whole drone fiasco proves that Trump only cares for things that benefit himself, and will abandon them once they lose value," Zhong said. "This must be disheartening for US allies like South Korea and Japan."

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