(National Sentinel) Defense: President Donald J. Trump told reporters he had a great meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the former’s Mar-a-Lago resort during their first face-to-face meeting earlier this year. And since the contents of those meetings have yet to be leaked, we can on speculate on what was discussed.
Publicly, Trump said the topics included what to do about North Korea and trade issues, the latter of which may have everything to do with a recent U.S. Navy warship encounter with one of China’s manmade islands in the South China sea.
As Reuters reports, the warship sailed inside of a Beijing-imposed 12-nautical mile zone surrounding the island, a first – brought to us by Trump’s muscular and assertive approach to defense and foreign policy:
A U.S. Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, the first such challenge to Beijing in the strategic waterway since U.S. President Donald Trump took office.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS Dewey traveled close to the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors.
China said its warships had warned the U.S. ship and it lodged “stern representations” with the United States. China said it remained resolutely opposed to so-called freedom of navigation operations.
The U.S. patrol, the first of its kind since October, marked the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, and comes as Trump is seeking China’s cooperation to rein in ally North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
Territorial waters are generally defined by U.N. convention as extending at most 12 nautical miles from a state’s coastline.
Under President Obama’s weak and toothless foreign policy, this wasn’t done – at all – and as such, it empowered China to continue acting belligerently, making outsized claims to virtually all of the South China sea, where something like $5 trillion worth of commerce passes each year. Needless to say, it is well within the United States’ interests – as well as the interests of all the countries in the region – to ensure that the flow of commerce is not interrupted or subjected to one country’s egotistical whims.
It’s not clear whether China will be of much help with North Korea, or whether it will ultimately matter to Trump as he and his national security team figure out how to take on the North Korean nuclear weapons threat in the future. But clearly he and his team have decided that international waters must remain international waters, and that China will not be permitted to arbitrarily rewrite international law and maritime practices merely to suit its agenda.
China is becoming too powerful to allow it to think there won’t be consequences to certain actions. The trick to Trump’s foreign policy will be to engage with Beijing on areas of cooperation – trade, North Korea, commerce – while deftly leaving little doubt that he is committed to defending and protecting U.S. alliances and other vital interests in the region, just as China claims a right to do.
The key is convincing Beijing that our presence is actually stabilizing, not threatening.