President-elect Donald Trump on Saturday slammed China for seizing an American naval drone in international waters of the disputed South China Sea, even as the Pentagon demanded its immediate release amid outrage from US lawmakers.
"China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters — rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented (unprecedented) act," Trump said in a tweet this morning.
Trump was reacting to reports that China has seized an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) on December 15 in the South China Sea while it was being recovered by a US Navy oceanographic survey ship.
In a statement, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook has called upon China to immediately return the American UUV.
"The UUV is a sovereign immune vessel of the United States. We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law," Cook demanded.
Top Republican Senator John McCain, Chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, said the act of China is a "flagrant violation" of the freedom of seas.
"The Chinese Navy's seizure of a US unmanned oceanographic vessel in international waters is a flagrant violation of the freedom of the seas. China had no right to seize this vehicle. And the United States must not stand for such outrageous conduct," McCain said.
"This brazen provocation fits a pattern of increasingly destabilising Chinese behaviour, including bullying its neighbours and militarising the South China Sea. And this behaviour will continue until it is met with a strong and determined US response, which until now the Obama administration has failed to provide," he alleged.
"Freedom of the seas and the principles of the rules-based order are not self-enforcing. American leadership is required in their defence. But that leadership has been sorely lacking," he said.
"We are not witnessing a China committed to a 'peaceful rise'. Instead, we are confronting an assertive China that has demonstrated its willingness to use intimidation and coercion to disrupt the rules-based order that has been the foundation of security and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region for seven decades," McCain said.
"We must adapt US policy and strategy to reflect this reality and ensure we have the necessary military forces, capabilities, and posture in the region to deter, and if necessary, defeat aggression," he said.