Trump Says US Should Refuse to Take Back Drone Seized By China

Phil Helsel
China downplays drone dispute

President-elect Donald Trump continued to use social media to poke at China Saturday, saying on Twitter that the U.S. should refuse to take a drone seized in international waters after the Communist country agreed to return it.

"We should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back. — let them keep it!" Trump said on Twitter Saturday night.

Trump tweet 1

Trump's tweet came after China's defense ministry said it agreed to return the drone, which was taken Thursday in the South China Sea, and after the Pentagon said it had secured the agreement "through direct engagement with Chinese authorities."

Earlier Saturday, before China's defense ministry announced it was returning the U.S. Navy Ocean Glider Unmanned Underwater Vehicle, Trump accused China of stealing the unmanned vehicle, calling the move "unprecedented."

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The Pentagon says drone was taken approximately 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines. It was one of two vehicles conducting what was called a routine survey and were stopped while awaiting recovery by a U.S. ship, the Pentagon said.

Trump communications director Jason Miller credited the president-elect with China's decision to return the vehicle, saying on Twitter that Trump "gets it done" — but there was no evidence presented or claim made that Trump did anything besides Tweet about the seizure.

A request for comment from the Trump team was not immediately returned.

The Chinese defense ministry statement saying it was returning the drone does not mention Trump, but said it has been in contact with the United States. China said "we express regret over this matter" in the statement, but accused the U.S. of "hyping up" the issue.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement that "through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United States."

Trump was criticized after he accepted a phone call from the president of Taiwan earlier this month, which broke with decades of American foreign policy in which the U.S. does not formally recognize the island nation, which China regards as a breakaway province.

Trump further ruffled feathers when he suggested that he might tear up the so-called "One China" policy.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang responded that "If the [one-China policy] is compromised or interfered with, any sound and steady development in China-U.S. relations and cooperation in various fields is out of the question."

The Global Times, a Chinese state-run newspaper, went further, accusing Trump of being "very childish and impulsive."

Trump has in the past called China a currency manipulator and trade cheat, but on Dec. 9 said the U.S.-China relationship is "one of the most important relationships we must improve."