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President-elect Trump to China: You Can Keep Our Drone

China has announced that it will give back the sized unmanned glider belonging to the US Army that was captured in the South China Sea on Thursday. However, President-elect Donald Trump, in a tweet on Saturday, wants the Chinese government to keep it, saying they stole it.

This was after US officials said that they had come into an agreement with the Chinese regarding the return of the device. The tweet threatens to aggravate one of the most contentious incidents between the Chinese and American militaries in years. In his tweet, Trump had misspelled the word unprecedented, terming it as ‘unpresidented.’ The tweet was later reissued with the correct spelling.

The Pentagon said that the naval drone was being used by civilian contractors to conduct research. It was collecting unclassified data relating to salinity, water temperature and other factors that may impact on US naval operations. The technology used in the drone is off-the-shelf and it is available commercially. The US had lodged an official diplomatic complaint, demanding the return of the drone and terming the seizure as unlawful. The seizure of the naval drone by a Chinese navy ship happened in full sight of the USNS Bowditch, a survey vessel that tracks the drone .The Chinese ship was reported to have turned down initial requests from USNS Bowditch to give back the drone.

According to Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a spokesman in the Pentagon, the incident occurred approximately 50 nautical miles off Subic Bay, Philippines. Yang Yujun, a spokesman of the Chinese defense ministry said was quoted as saying that they had seized the device to ensure the safe passage of passing ships. In a statement, the Chinese government stated that after confirming the device, it had decided to give the device back to the US government.

naval drone

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

According to some experts in maritime law, the naval drone seizure occurred inside a Philippines economic zone and can therefore be interpreted as a violation of international maritime law. China uses a sea boundary dubbed the ‘nine-dash line’ to lay its claim on the South China Sea. But it has not expressly declared whether it regards those waters as its sovereign territory, and it says it does not interfere with the ships of other countries when they navigate through the area. The US, on its part, has not taken any position on the question of China’s sovereignty claims. However, the US stresses on its freedom of navigation and the rights of the US navy to carry out training and other activities in the sea. It is not clear how Trump’s tweet will affect the agreement reached with the Chinese.

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