China seizure of US drone a test for PH, Trump: analyst

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 22 2016 03:53 PM

MANILA - China may be testing the relationship of the United States and the Philippines and is sending a message to President-elect Donald Trump with its seizure of an underwater drone from the US off Philippine shores, an analyst said. 

Author and international columnist Richard Heydarian noted in an interview [email protected], China "unilaterally and in violation of international law" seized the drone 50 nautical miles off Subic Bay, well within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

"That drone was marked and the other thing was China has no business to operate within our EEZ because per international law, we have no overlapping exclusive economic zone," he said.

"That was part of some sort of a maritime surveillance or reconnaissance mission that the US was running, and the US was actually sending a vessel, a civilian vessel to retrieve that, and China just took it away," he added.

Heydarian believes this is a way for China to test Philippines’ alliance with the US, with whom it has a mutual defense treaty, because this is "quite a provocative move within the Philippine waters."

"If China can just come in and take away American assets, then that could kind of undermine America’s ability in an event of conflict to help us under the Mutual Defense Treaty," he said.

Second, China may also be testing newly elected US President Trump's resolve in pushing the envelope in terms of its military spending in the South China Sea.

This, after Trump had talked with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen few weeks ago and even venturing into saying he may "somehow de facto acknowledge Taiwan as an independent nation," added Heydarian.

"China is also saying to Trump: If you’re going to ramp up your military presence in the area, if you’re going to question the foundations of the modus vivendi we have in the past three to four decades, then we are also willing to push the envelope in other areas," he said.

Heydarian noted, China exerting pressure to a significant nation undergoing leadership transition is not unique to the present scenario, and this was recently seen in the country's relation to its Asian neighbor, Vietnam.

Earlier this year, Vietnam also had an election, and according to Heydarian, China sent another oil rig to Vietnamese waters, the same they sent in 2014 that caused a showdown between the two countries.

"When some important countries are going to transition, the Chinese actually tend to up the ante and send a clear signal that the next leadership has to be careful—if you change your tone to a more aggressive approach towards China, we will respond accordingly," he said.

With Trump's phone call to the Taiwanese leader, the maverick businessman-turned-politician had just broken a decades-long tradition of recognizing the One China Policy, and Heydarian supposes, the drone issue was a warning to him.

"This is a clear signal to Donald Trump that America will pay a price and China is willing to up the ante if he’s going to make Obama’s pivot to Asia even more military-oriented than it would have been," he said.

"We have to brace for more tensions," he added. 

"This is going to be more frequent as the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea becomes more and more congested—you have more military facilities of China in the area, you have more American drone in the area, and you have the Philippines essentially slug it out together," he said.