US President-elect Donald Trump features on a magazine front cover on a
China's Foreign Ministry said on Monday that military officials are in touch with the US over the return of an American undersea drone and dismissed President-elect Donald Trump's criticism of the Chinese navy's seizure of the device.
Hewing to statements issued over the weekend by China's Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying described Thursday's seizure as an effort by the Chinese navy to "prevent harm" to vessels freely and safely moving in the area.
"The Chinese side inspected it, found that it belongs to the US, and decided to hand it back," Hua said at a regular briefing. She said both countries' militaries "are in smooth communications, and we believe this incident will be properly handled".
The Pentagon said that the US Navy drone was gathering oceanographic data when it was captured in international waters in the South China Sea. That location suggests the incident occurred outside the waters China claims belong to it. As such the seizure marks an escalation of Beijing's efforts to block US naval surveillance and adds to recent tensions over Taiwan and trade.
Asked if the drone was spying on China, Hua sidestepped, saying, "We have always opposed long-term survey and reconnaissance by US vessels in waters facing China, as this threatens Chinese sovereignty and security."
In Twitter posts over the weekend, Trump twice characterized China's seizure as stealing, saying on Saturday "China steals US Navy research drone," and on Sunday that "we should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back."
Hua described the president-elect's characterization of Beijing's actions as "wholly inaccurate".
"We really don't like the word 'stealing,'" Hua said. "The most important thing is that the Chinese navy took a professional manner to prevent the device from harming freedom of navigation."
The state-owned China Daily also rejected Trump's claim in an editorial.
"What is truly amazing about this tweet, was the soon-to-be US president completely misrepresented what had actually happened -- that is more dangerous than funny," it said.
Trump's behavior "could easily drive China-US relations into what Obama portrays as 'full-conflict mode'," it added, next to a cartoon that depicted Trump riding a bull into a china shop while US businessmen looked on aghast.
A separate article quoted experts as calling Trump's conduct "diplomatically inept".
Trump has already infuriated Beijing by questioning longstanding US policy on Taiwan, calling Beijing a currency manipulator and threatening punitive tariffs on Chinese imports.
"Trump is not behaving as a president who will become master of the White House in a month. He bears no sense of how to lead a superpower," the often nationalistic Global Times said in an editorial.
There are broader tensions in the South China Sea, where China has moved to fortify its claims to the region by expanding tiny reefs and islets into artificial islands hosting military facilities.