Trump administration’s first freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea is a key indicator of US commitment to the region
Pundits have been keeping a close eye on if, when, and how the Donald Trump administration conducts a freedom of navigation operation near disputed features in the South China Sea. The willingness to conduct the operations signals United States commitment to upholding international law, particularly maritime rights vested under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos). More broadly, it is an important indicator of US commitment to the region.
In the last year of the Obama administration, one such operation per quarter was conducted and, even then, this was criticised by some as too few.
Allies and partners in the region and beyond were growing increasingly anxious when, four months into the Trump administration, no freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea had been conducted. This led to questions about whether this administration would overlook the South China Sea in exchange for China’s cooperation elsewhere, such as on North Korea.