Trump slams China's capture of a US Navy drone as 'unprecedented' act

President-elect Donald Trump called China's capture of a US Navy navy drone an "unprecedented" act on Saturday, as China agreed to return the vessel to the US in an incident that added to recent tensions between the nations.

"China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters — rips it out of the water and takes it to China in an unprecedented act," Trump tweeted.

The drone, deployed by a US oceanographic vessel in international waters in the South China Sea, was conducting a military survey roughly 50 nautical miles northwest of the Philippines before it was seized by a Chinese warship and removed from the water on Thursday.

"It's a sovereign immune vessel, clearly marked in English not to be removed from the water — that it was US property," a US official told Reuters on Friday.

Trump's official picks for Cabinet and administration positions
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Trump's official picks for Cabinet and administration positions

Counselor to the President: Kellyanne Conway

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Veterans Affairs Secretary: David Shulkin

(Photo credit DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Transportation secretary: Elaine Chao

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Energy secretary: Rick Perry

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Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson

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Secretary of Defense: Retired Marine General James Mattis

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Chief of staff: Reince Priebus

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Chief strategist: Steve Bannon


Attorney General: Senator Jeff Sessions

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Director of the CIA: Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo

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Deputy national security adviser: K.T. McFarland

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White House counsel: Donald McGahn

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Ambassador to the United Nations: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

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Education secretary: Betsy DeVos

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Commerce secretary: Wilbur Ross

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Homeland security secretary: General John Kelly

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Housing and urban development secretary: Ben Carson

(Photo credit NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Health and human services secretary: Tom Price

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Department of Homeland Security: Retired General John Kelly

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Secretary of agriculture: Sonny Perdue

(BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese officials agreed to return the vessel after negotiating with the US, the Pentagon said Saturday.

"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.

However, China's Defense Ministry said it was "resolutely opposed" to this kind of activity, and accused the US of "hyping up" the incident.

China's seizure of the vessel comes amid an increased military presence in the South China Sea.

A US think tank said Friday that China has installed antiaircraft and antimissile systems on man-made islands it has been constructing around the Spratly Islands, a strategically important chain that China occupies.

Trump, a president-elect with no formal diplomatic experience, has taken stances opposing China's interests since winning the election in November.

He held a congratulatory phone call with the Taiwanese prime minister, Tsai Ing-wen, earlier this month, flouting decades of established US policy.

Trump has also called China a "currency manipulator," and threatened to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese imports on the campaign trail.

The president-elect was set to continue his "thank you" tour of postelection rallies in Alabama on Saturday.

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