President Donald Trump’s Pentagon just changed the strategy on combating China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, something that Obama’s administration refused to do.
As Navy Times reported, Trump administration decided to allow freedom of navigation operations known as FONOPS in the South China Sea near China’s unclear islands there.
According to Reuters, warship USS Stethem, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed on Sunday with 12 nautical miles of Triton, an island belonging to China, Vietnam and Taiwan.
A U.S. Defense Department official said that Sunday’s operation intended to challenge the competing land claims, and it made the Chinese angry.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that this was “a serious political and military provocation.”
“China strongly urges the U.S. side to immediately stop this kind of provocative action which seriously violates China’s sovereignty and puts at risk China’s security,” ministry spokesman Lu Kang stated.
The Stethem’s operation is the second FONOPS operation since Trump administration took office.
As Breitbart reported, the first one was in May, when the USS Dewey, a destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, a small point of land in the Spratly Islands that China has turned it into a military base.
The Navy Times reported, “Obama specifically prohibited the Navy from carrying out FONOPS in the South China Sea from 2012 through 2015. During that time, China put into overdrive its land reclamation and military construction projects” rushing the land reclamation program in the South China Sea.
Now, U.S. Navy and Pacific Command leaders are looking to make these kinds of FONOPS missions more common.
“The Trump administration has to decide what it wants to achieve,” Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, stated for the Navy Times.
“I doubt it it’s possible to compel China to withdraw from its newly built islands in the Spratlys. But the U.S. could develop a strategy aimed at preventing more land reclamation, capping militarization and deterring China from using its new outposts to intimidate and coerce its neighbors.”
Triton is part of the Paracel Islands chain, and not a newly created island, there are significant problems with Chinese military buildup there.
“Unlike in the Spratlys, where China has created a new artificial territory in the last several years, it has effectively controlled the Paracels since 1974,” Mira Rapp-Hooper, an expert on the South China Sea with the Center for a New American Security, told Reuters. “It claims illegal straight baselines around the Paracels, and the FONOPS may have been contesting these.”
Trump administration is taking a different strategy when it comes to China’s military expansion into the South China Sea.
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