The war of words between the United States of America and China continues over an American underwater drone seized by the Chinese in the South China Sea.
The Chinese military scooped up the submersible US Navy underwater drone in the South China Sea late this week and sparked a row that drew in President-elect Donald Trump.
The Chinese have finally agreed to hand the device over to the American authorities. But Donald Trump is highly critical of China, saying on Twitter the Chinese stole it, so they can keep it.
“Through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United States,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement on Saturday, referring to the Unmanned Underwater Vehicle the U.S. said had been operating in international waters.
China’s ministry of defense pledged an “appropriate” return of the drone on its Weibo social media account, while also criticizing the U.S. for hyping the incident into a diplomatic row. It followed assurances from Beijing that the governments were working to resolve the spat, punctuated by a tweet from Trump denouncing the seizure as “unprecedented.”
The drone incident was disclosed by the Pentagon on Friday. China’s ministry said the U.S. “hyped the case in public,” which it said wasn’t helpful in resolving the problem. The U.S. has “frequently” sent its vessels and aircrafts into the region, and China urges such activities to stop, the ministry said in its Weibo message.
Trump slammed the Chinese navy’s capture of the vehicle in a message to his 17.4 million Twitter followers.
“China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters — rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act,” Trump wrote Saturday hours after the Chinese government said it had been in touch with the U.S. military about the incident.
In a follow-up Twitter message, the President-elect said: “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back — let them keep it!”
The tensions unleashed by the episode underscored the delicate state of relations between the two countries, weeks before Trump’s inauguration. Trump has threatened higher tariffs on Chinese products and questioned the U.S. approach to Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory. Meanwhile, China is growing more assertive over its claims to disputed sections of the South China Sea.