China rejects Donald Trump's charge of stealing US drone, says won't exercise restraint if attacks continue

Beijing: China on Monday rejected president-elect Donald Trump's charge that it "stole" an American drone, saying the device was picked up to prevent "harm" to freedom of navigation in the disputed South China Sea, from where Beijing claims the US is spying on Chinese coast.

"First of all we did not like the word stealing. This is also not accurate," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a media briefing, hitting back at Trump's charge.

"China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters -- rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act," Trump tweeted. His claim had come hours after the Chinese government had said it had been in touch with the US military about the incident. Hua said both militaries are handling the issue "smoothly".

She also denied US allegations that the Chinese naval ship picked it up and took it away despite messages from the US survey ship USNS Bowditch which controlled the drone.

"As to what really happened, you can see from defence ministry statement that the Chinese navy found this unidentified device and examined in a professional manner to verify it," Hua said.

"No matter how they see this unidentified device, most important thing is that Chinese navy took a professional and responsible decision to do this in order to prevent from causing harm to freedom of navigation," she said.

 China rejects Donald Trumps charge of stealing US drone, says wont exercise restraint if attacks continue

US president-elect Donald Trump. Reuters

"I think this is easy to understand. Just imagine that you found something on the street and you to first check and verify it before handing it back to someone else. So I believe it is something easy to understand," Hua said.

Asked whether China did not know that it belonged to the US, she shot back saying, "What is your point, do you think this fell from the pocket of US?" However, she said the militaries of both US and Beijing are in close touch to handle this issue smoothly.

"All I can tell you is that the two sides are handling this issue properly through smooth military channels," Hua said, adding that she has nothing to offer on specifics like when the drone would be handed over to the US.

Hua said only the defence ministry will clarify that from where the drone was picked by the Chinese naval ship. The US military had said it was taken away from outside the nine dash line of the South China Sea.

The line in the Chinese maps indicates China's claims over the area, which is disputed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan. Also, Hua declined to comment on Trump's tweets on China, including the second one on the drone in which he said, "We should tell China that we don't want back the drone they stole — let them keep it!"

"Regarding president-elect tweets, I noticed there are lot of comments in the world. We will not make any extra comment on that," Hua said.

On the details of the glider, "If you read through the defence ministry statement, you can find the answers," she said. The Chinese navy found this device in the South China Sea, Hua said.

"In order to prevent it from causing harm to the freedom of navigation and safety of passing vessels, the Chinese navy verified and examined the device and found that it belonged to US and we have decided to hand it over through appropriate means. The two sides are in communication through military channels and we believe this will be properly handled," she said.

But at the same, Hua accused the US of indulging in close surveillance of the Chinese coast.

While the drone incident is being properly handled, "I want to emphasise that for long time US has been deploying vessels to conduct close reconnaissance and surveys in China's coastal waters. China urges US to stop such activities. We will continue to be vigilant against such activities," she said.

Hua, however, declined to specify whether the drone was conducting espionage as alleged by the state-run Chinese official media.

"We are opposed to US deploying vessels and aircraft to conduct surveillance and survey in China's coastal waters," she said, without elaborating.

Meanwhile, Chinese state-media attacked Trump for his tweets targeting China, saying that he lacked diplomatic experience and was unfit to lead a superpower.

"What is truly amazing about this (Trump) tweet, was the soon-to-be US president completely misrepresented what had actually happened -- that is more dangerous than funny," an editorial in the state-owned China Daily newspaper said.

Trump's behaviour "could easily drive China-US relations into what Obama portrays as 'full-conflict mode'," said the editorial which was published alongside a cartoon showing Trump riding a bull into a China shop much to the shock of US businessmen.

"Trump is not behaving as a president who will become master of the White House in a month. He bears no sense of how to lead a superpower," said another official daily Global Times, which is known for its nationalistic approach.

"He bears no sense of how to lead a superpower. Even the US military did not use the term 'steal' to describe the move by the Chinese navy. Trump's second tweet makes people worry that he will treat China-US relations as child's play," it said.

"Now people don't know if Trump is engaged in a psychological war with China or he is just unprofessional, even though he will be sworn in soon. Regarding the Sino-US relationship, he challenged the one-China policy and despised the principles which both countries have adopted to manage crises," the daily said.

"Since he has not taken office, China has kept a calm attitude toward his provocative remarks. But if he treats China after assuming office in the same way as in his tweets, China will not exercise restraint," it said.

Updated Date: Dec 19, 2016 19:23:21 IST