Was China's seizure of U.S. drone a message to President-elect Trump?

Impact of Russia hacking
Impact of Russia hacking 04:26

As China prepares to return the U.S. underwater drone it seized last Thursday in the South China Sea, one global political risk expert asserts the timing of the incident sends a direct message to President-elect Donald Trump.

“The fact is that Chinese could have been doing this six months ago, 12 months ago – they’re not. The fact that they are doing it now shows that they clearly don’t like the statements that have been made by President-elect Trump on a host of issues with China,” Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer said Monday on “CBS This Morning.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Trump irked China when he spoke on the phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ying-wen, breaking precedent and becoming the first American president-elect to speak with a Taiwanese president since the U.S. cut formal diplomatic ties with the island in 1979.

After China and the U.S. agreed the drone would be returned, Mr. Trump tweeted: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act.”

Later he wrote: “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back. - let them keep it!”

Chinese state media said the country was returning the drone because it posed no safety threat, adding that the U.S. inappropriately hyped the incident.

“We don’t like the word steal. That’s totally inaccurate,” China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

China on U.S. drone seizure 02:50

“Unlike a lot of other countries, if the Americans really decide they are going to escalate versus China, the Chinese have the capability to give it right back,” Bremmer said. “Trump really believes that America has a much stronger negotiating position internationally, and the Chinese are going to show him that the reality is very unlike that.”

Bremmer said there is no question that the Chinese have been conducting more “military exercises and live fire” in the South China Sea, where the contested waters and islands have become a sensitive issue between the U.S., China and other countries in the region.  

“They overflew with a nuclear capable bomber and now they’ve allowed their sailors in the region to be more aggressive in responding to a drone being available,” Bremmer said.

In addition to China-U.S. relations, Bremmer also discussed Russia hacking the U.S. during the 2016 campaign. CIA director John Brennan sent a memo to intelligence staff on Friday saying the director of national intelligence and the FBI director now agree with the CIA that Russian hacking was, in part, intended to help Mr. Trump win the election. 

President Obama vowed the U.S. will respond “at a time and a place of our own choosing.” But there’s “very little” the U.S. can do to Russia, Bremmer said.

“We have only a few weeks before Obama is gone, and it seems pretty clear from everything that Trump has said about Russia that his inclination is not only to disbelieve the intelligence but cozy up with this country as closely as possible. So the time of Obama’s choosing is clearly running out,” Bremmer said.

Now a group of both Republican and Democratic senators is calling for a special committee to investigate the evidence into the hacking.

“The fact that they’ve ordered this comprehensive intelligence review which they will make known at least to the Democrats and Republicans in Congress, certainly a lot of that is going to get leaked,” Bremmer said. “The hope is that that constrains Trump from being able to cozy up with the Russians, who will be seen to have compromised American national security. But keep in mind, this went on under Obama. The response from the United States was not very strong. And part of the reason it’s hard for the Democrats to hit Trump on this is because consistently Russia is the biggest failed policy under Obama in terms of Syria, in terms of Ukraine and now in terms of the hacks as well.”

The hacking began in 2015, reports CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan, and the stolen Democratic Party emails began appearing on WikiLeaks ahead of Hillary Clinton’s nominating convention this summer.

“Russia’s thinking that they certainly have delegitimized the American election. They’ve put a lot of questions in people’s mind as to whether or not this was an effective democratic process or not,” Bremmer said. “We are seen as hypocrites, and the United States has tried to show the Russians as hypocrites historically. They say they have their own democratic process and of course we know that’s not really true. They pretend to have rule of law that doesn’t really work. So, you know, they’re giving it back to us right now.”

And the Russian’s meddling isn’t over, he said.

“The Germans and the French have elections coming up and we know that the Russians intend to influence the outcome of those elections,” Bremmer said. “Now by the way, in this case, influence them in ways that Mr. Trump would support, in favor of the far right Euro-skeptic parties in ways that Obama would dislike. That’s an enormous win for the Russians.”