Saturday, May 06, 2017

Trump promised to crack down on China in the South China Sea. He hasn’t.

Zeeshan Aleem · Wednesday, May 03, 2017, 1:21 pm

So far he’s been less confrontational than Obama.

On his march to the White House, Donald Trump pledged to rein in China’s aggressive territorial expansion in the South China Sea. But now, more than 100 days into his presidency, there’s clear evidence that the administration hasn’t walked the walk.

In recent years, China has been using its expanding naval presence and the construction of artificial islands to make ever-bolder claims to territory in the South China Sea that has previously been considered international or claimed by countries in Southeast Asia. Some of the islands have runways that can accommodate jumbo jets and appear to have anti-aircraft guns and missile defense systems on them.

The Obama administration occasionally sent US Navy vessels through the South China Sea in deliberate violation of Beijing’s self-proclaimed rights to the area. These so-called “freedom of navigation” exercises sent a clear message to China: We don’t accept your claims to this area.

But Obama was heavily criticized for not doing this often enough, and thus not being “tough” enough on China. Trump promised to change that. During his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson implied that the US might even pursue a blockade against China in the South China Sea — an act that Chinese state media interpreted as an invitation to war.

But so far, not only has the Trump administration not been more confrontational in challenging China in the South China Sea like they promised — they haven’t even been as aggressive as the Obama administration was.

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