President Trump has approved a Pentagon plan to schedule and conduct frequent “freedom of navigation operations” (FONOPs) to check China’s excessive claims over the majority of the South China Sea. In February, Liberty Nation reported on those claims (which multiple nations dispute) and China’s creation of military bases and missile sites in the disputed region. In 2016, the International Court in The Hague ruled that China’s claims had no legal basis. Naturally, China ignored the ruling.
FONOPs occur when nations make claims over waters outside their jurisdiction. The United States sends several navy vessels through the disputed waters to ensure the free flow of commercial traffic.
FONOPs were once quite frequent, but from 2012 to 2015, the Obama administration halted all such actions within the South China Sea. In 2016, the Obama administration only conducted three FONOPs. President Trump’s tenure, however, has already seen three in less than a year.
Department of Defense officials suggest that the return of FONOPs in the South China Sea is a return to normal, and helps the United States push back again Chinese incursions into those disputed waters.
When Liberty Nation reported on China’s buildup of naval bases and missile sites on artificial islands in the South China Sea, the question at hand was whether the Trump Administration would respond in a way that not only acts from a position of strength but reinforces American Naval dominance.
Our Navy is currently the most powerful in the world. Whenever there is a global crisis, America’s Navy is there to provide support and, in some cases, to engage in military action. China, who consistently works to rival the United States as a global hegemony, is currently making advances in their naval technology and strength.
The outposts and missile sites in the South China Sea are transparent attempts by China to dominate the Pacific region and position themselves as globally strategic rivals to the United States. Freedom of navigation operations cannot and will not be able to remove the Chinese military presence that already exists within the Pacific region, but it sends a clear message that violations of international convention, agreement, and law will not be tolerated.
Despite the positive steps that freedom of navigation operations make, the Trump administration must exercise caution in dealing with China. With a dual status as ally and competitor, China is entrenched not only in American strategic goals but also in international relations in general. They are our strategic partner in some cases, our strategic competitor in others.
China will undoubtedly move to fill whatever holes we leave as a global hegemony. The return of the FONOP helps close these gaps, but President Trump must work to identify other gaps in our strategic goals.