Expert: Chinese drone seizure a signal to Trump

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China’s seizure of a U.S. Navy underwater drone Thursday is likely a signal to President-elect Donald Trump that it won’t take his phone call with Taiwan lightly, an expert said on Friday.  

“Knowing Chinese military officials for many years and how orders are communicated from the highest power centers in Beijing down to commanders on the ground or water, this was very likely a highly planned and escalatory move to show China will not take matters lightly when it comes to President-elect Trump’s phone call and comments on Taiwan, or Chinese actions overall,” said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest.

Trump took a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen congratulating him on his presidential win, breaking decades of diplomatic protocol. No U.S. president or president-elect had spoken with a leader of Taiwan since the U.S. normalized relations with China in 1979. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province, not a separate country. 

{mosads}Both Trump and Tsai have played down the significance of the call, but it triggered a formal complaint from China to the U.S. 

Kazianis also said he expects China to “aggressively test” the Trump administration once it enters office in January, as it has done with previous administrations in the past.

Kazianis predicts China to declare an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea, as it did for the East China Sea in 2013, as one way to test Trump within the first six months of taking office. Such a move could escalate tensions with both the United States and Chinese neighbors concerned about territorial disputes.

“President George W. Bush was tested by China just 77 days from when he took office in 2001 when a Chinese fighter jet smashed into a U.S. surveillance plane — the so-called EP-3 Incident,” he said.

“Additionally, President Obama was tested by Beijing 44 days from when he took office when Chinese vessels surrounded a U.S. naval ship. Trump, it would seem, is certainly in for the same fate,” he said.   

Retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis, former commander of NATO Supreme Allied Command, predicted earlier this year that U.S. adversaries like China, Russia, Iran and North Korea would step up its bad behavior to test the incoming administration.  

“I assure you all of the actors who are pushing on the United States now will push even harder on the new administration to try and find out where the limits are, and that will be a period of maximum danger,” Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, told The Hill in an Oct. 6 interview.

“There will be an inevitable period of testing that goes on after a new administration comes in and it will require a heightened state of alert and frankly a continued effort to make it clear that we’re not going to tolerate encounters that lead to real danger for our people or a danger of escalation,” he said.

Earlier this year, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford told members of Congress that U.S. adversaries are seeking to challenge the U.S. in ways that won’t provoke an outright military conflict.

Kazianis echoed that assessment. 

“China is clearly trying to test the United States in a way that is very hard for Washington to respond to. In stealing an underwater drone, Washington has very few viable options but to simply ask for it back, or escalate the situation in some manner, driving up tensions,” he said. 

“Beijing is showing it has the capability to respond in a time and place of its choosing,” he said.  

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