(National Sentinel) Defense: The Trump administration is preparing to make it crystal clear to China it will not stand idly by and allow Beijing to ‘claim’ the entire South China Sea for itself, then dictate the rules of passage and trade in one of the world’s most economically important regions.
As reported exclusively by Breitbart News, President Donald J. Trump earlier this year approved a Pentagon plan requiring regular challenges to China’s outsized claims in the region:
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sent the plan to the White House in April that outlines a schedule for the whole year of when U.S. Navy ships will sail through international waters China illegally claims, according to a U.S. official.
Although the U.S. Navy has routinely conducted these “freedom of navigation operations” all around the world for decades, the Obama administration put a stop on them in the South China Sea from 2012 to 2015, with only a few in 2016, out of concern for upsetting China.
That was the wrong thing to do, and the Pentagon knew it: The Defense Department continued to send requests for FONOPs to the National Security Council, where they would summarily disappear down the dark hole of bureaucracy. There was a concern “of doing anything that would cause anybody to get their feathers ruffled,” the U.S. official said.
It was during that lull that China began aggressively reclaiming islands and building man-made structures — then manning and arming them — throughout the South China Sea.
Many regions China now claims are also claimed as exclusive economic zones by Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, and others. In addition, an international court ruled a year ago that China’s outsized claims were illegal under international law, though Beijing has essentially ignored it.
Under the new plan, the White House will already be aware of the planned operations so that they will not be “a surprise” every time a request comes up the chain of command, and they will be approved faster than before, the official said.
Having them approved faster will allow the operations to be conducted on a “very routine, very regular” basis, with the benefit of making each operation part of a regular program to keep the waters open, versus a “one-off event.”
Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, said, “having regular, steady deployments of U.S. naval assets conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea is a good thing – and something I support 100 percent.”
“China must know we will surely operate wherever allowed by international law, just like Beijing does when they conduct missions around Guam, Hawaii or near Alaska. This is standard military operating procedure and codified in international law. In fact, it shouldn’t even be controversial,” he added.
Breitbart added that a bipartisan group of senators has also been pressing the administration to take on this new strategy.
“In recent years, China, in particular, has taken a series of aggressive steps in disputed areas of the South China Sea,” they wrote. “We believe that United States engagement in the South China Sea remains essential to continue to protect freedom of navigation and overflight and to uphold international law.”