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.
“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.