Is America becoming more assertive about China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea?
Is America becoming more assertive about China’s territorial claims in the region? The navy chafed at Barack Obama’s caution: despite China’s massive programmes of building and militarisation on disputed reefs far from the mainland, the former president allowed only a handful of relatively uncontroversial “freedom of navigation” operations. Now the navy has submitted a list of tougher actions for President Donald Trump’s approval, and this weekend a strike group, including the “supercarrier” USS Carl Vinson, showed up. The admirals want to send vessels within 12 nautical miles of features claimed by China: a reminder that, under international law, artificial islands cannot claim surrounding waters. They also want to flout China’s demand to be notified before ships pass through seas it claims. This could backfire. Mr Trump’s national-security apparatus remains in chaos and without a clear China strategy. Rather than restraining Chinese projection of maritime power, more assertive American operations could provide the pretext for increasing it.