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As US Carrier Enters South China Sea, What’s Trump’s Move?

The US Navy wants to embark upon a fresh freedom of navigation operation around China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea, in what would be the first under President Trump, the Navy Times reports, citing defense officials. The operation would most likely be carried out by the San Diego-based USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group, which began patrolling the South China Sea over the weekend. It would involve sailing within 12 nautical miles of the island features China claims as its own, but the plans need Trump’s approval—making for a “transnational guessing game about what the Trump administration wants its Asia policy to be,” per the Navy Times.

The AP reports the Obama administration curtailed freedom of navigation operations, barring them from 2012 to 2015, a period in which China aggressively moved forward on construction in the contested reefs and islands. Navy warships have deliberately sailed close to Chinese-occupied features four times since October 2015, ignoring Beijing’s sovereignty claims. The Navy Times notes that some in the Navy feel Obama’s hesitation to move forward with the freedom of navigation operations took a formerly “standard” mission and made it feel threatening. China’s Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang said he was aware of the reports and, as USA Today put it, denounced them. He said in part, “We urge the US side not to take any actions that challenge China’s sovereignty and security.”

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