Reuters reports: China and the United States are using military channels to “appropriately handle” the seizure by the Chinese navy of a U.S. underwater drone in the South China Sea, China said on Saturday, and a Chinese state-run newspaper said it expected a smooth resolution.
The drone was taken on Thursday, the first seizure of its kind in recent memory, about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay off the Philippines, just as the USNS Bowditch was about to retrieve the unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), U.S. officials said.
“It is understood that China and the United States are using military channels to appropriately handle this issue,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement sent to Reuters, without elaborating. [Continue reading…]
Given Donald Trump’s focus on attending victory rallies and his lack of interest in receiving intelligence briefings, it’s possible that this brief diplomatic incident escaped his attention. At least we can surmise at this point that the president-elect did not deem this matter tweet-worthy.
Nevertheless, I have to wonder whether the Chinese had the intention of providing Trump with a teachable moment so that he can understand that it’s possible to deal with a small provocation without starting World War III.
Let’s hope this isn’t the last time we hear a foreign power saying that the U.S. is appropriately handling an unexpected situation.
But given that even before Trump has entered office he has rocked U.S.-Chinese relations, his destabilizing influence on global affairs seems much more likely to grow before or if it can be held in check.
I spoke too soon!
Literally as I was writing this, Trump tweeted this:
China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 17, 2016
I don’t know if Trump corrects his tweets, so just in case, here’s a screenshot:
I guess Trump could be coining an expression that means an action unworthy of a president. Much more likely, it just means that early on a Saturday morning he doesn’t have any staff nearby to tell him how to spell unprecedented.
As for the substance, Trump is incorrect in claiming that China’s action is unprecedented. Moreover, from China’s point of view it is the U.S. surveillance operations which are the provocation as it has previously made clear.
In 2002, the same U.S. ship was involved in a flare of tensions between the U.S. and China. As the Associated Press reported at the time:
Chinese patrol planes buzzed an unarmed U.S. Navy ship several times while it was conducting what the Pentagon called routine military surveys in the Yellow Sea, and Beijing demanded that it cease “illegal operations” inside China’s 200-mile economic exclusion zone.
The incidents happened over a period of weeks starting in early September. After Chinese officials lodged private protests at least twice, the United States responded Thursday with a note that asserted its right to conduct such activities inside any nation’s economic exclusion zone.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said, “We think it violates the international maritime law, and we have made several representations to the U.S. side.”
The report also said:
This was not the first time the Bowditch’s work has rankled the Chinese. On March 23, 2001, just nine days before the EP-3 collision, a Chinese warship chased the Bowditch out of the Yellow Sea.
That collision being between a Chinese fighter plane and a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea — an incident that caused much of the world to hold its breath as it waited to see whether an inexperienced and brash American president, George W. Bush, would over-react.
Who could imagine that 16 years later, Bush would, in retrospect, look like a seasoned statesman compared to the man who is about to enter the White House!?
Of course, Bush’s test with China was a prelude to a much greater test six months later whose consequences still reverberate around the world.
The prospect of Trump facing a similar test are too horrific to imagine.
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