China's Seizure of US Navy Drone Is a Response to Donald Trump's Comments on Taiwan

Donald Trump
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump gives a thumbs up to the media as he arrives at a costume party at the home of hedge fund billionaire and campaign donor Robert Mercer in Head of the Harbor, New York, December 3. The head of Russia's biggest bank hailed Trump as a "president of change." Mark Kauzlarich/ REUTERS

This article was originally published on the International Business Times.

The seizure on Thursday (15 December 2016) of an unmanned US Navy drone in the South China Sea by the Chinese Navy has upped the tension between America and China, which has become even more tense since Donald Trump took a call from President Tsai of Taiwan, breaking 40 years of no direct presidential contact known as the 'One China' policy.

U.S. Senator from Arizona John McCain has denounced the seizure as "outrageous" and the Pentagon is demanding the return of the drone immediately. President Obama sent more manned navy vessels to the area in an act of force.

American pundits are saying that this is an unprecedented and illegal seizure, and yet another example of bullying by China. They point to reclamation of islands in the South China Sea, some of which have had military weapons installed in recent months.

Aside from the obvious fact that this is unprecedented (water drones are a relatively new piece of equipment in America's navy arsenal), clearly China's seizure was a cool, clear-headed and restrained response to Trump's questioning of the 'One China' policy rather than an aggressive act. They were forced to take action by the president-elect's recent irresponsible behavior.

While it was smart for Trump to take a call from Tsai, as it signals that America cannot be a pushover and will protect the interests of allies in the Asia-Pacific, he went too far by going on Fox News to question whether the U.S. had to adhere to the agreement if China did not make trade concessions.

China's sovereignty over Taiwan is considered sacred and non-negotiable by Beijing; it will use force if necessary should Trump go too far as it worries about separatists in Xinjiang and Tibet, while public pressure would force them to act.

China prefers to use economic sticks to get what it wants, and it usually works.

By taking an unmanned drone from the unarmed Bowditch vessel rather than an armed American destroyer, China is signalling that it cannot be bullied while at the same time showing it does not want to risk armed conflict or the death of any sailors. Doing so before Trump actually becomes president on January 20 also allows for a cooling-off period by both sides.

In the next month, America should expect minor military provocations by China as well as more pressure on American business interests in the country.

Already there are rumors that General Motors or Ford would be penalized for monopolistic behavior with their distributors in China. Expect that the next major purchase of airplanes by state-owned carriers such as Air China or China Eastern Airlines would come from Airbus rather than Boeing. American businesses will probably have more difficulties getting visas to the country. The hope is that the American business community exert pressure on Trump to take a softer stance.

With the impeachment of South Korean president Pak, one of the frontrunners for the South Korean presidency, Moon Jae-in, has said he might rethink Thaad missile deployment in order to promote closer China-South Korea ties. This came after pressure from South Korean businesses affected by China blocking tour groups to South Korea and a banning of Korean pop stars from entering in China.

Going forward, it is clear that China does not want a military standoff with the U.S—they are taking a responsible approach to the international community to focus on economic trade and fill in the vacuum left by the U.S. since Trump is against NAFTA and TPP. President Xi is rumored to be the first Chinese president to attend the World Economic Forum, which in 2016 took place in Davos in January.

At the same time, Trump should ratchet down his rhetoric on 'One China'. Beijing would use force if necessary to protect what it considers its sovereignty.

Shaun Rein is the founder of the China Market Research Group (CMR) and author of "The End of Cheap China" and "The End of Copycat China."