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    Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, photographed by a USN surveillance aircraft in 2015

    Trump Reportedly Approves US Navy's Annual Operations in the South China Sea

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    Asia & Pacific
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    US President Donald Trump has reportedly approved a plan to give the US navy more freedom to carry out patrols in the South China Sea, but an expert said that the US might be wasting its time.

    The Trump administration approved an annual plan for when US navy ships will sail through the contested waters, giving greater freedom to the US navy, according to Breitbart News, a far-right American news site.

    The plan was submitted to the White House in April by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, an anonymous US official revealed. The official claimed the White House would be aware of all planned “freedom of navigation operations” so it would not be “a surprise” when requests came up the chain of command, and they would be approved faster than before.

    The faster approval process would mean operations could be conducted on a “very routine, very regular” basis, as a part of a program to keep the waters open, rather than as a “one-off event,” the official said.

    This move is a clear sign that the US is planning on stepping up operations in the South China Sea, Zhu Feng, dean of the School of International Studies at Nanjing University, told Global Times on July 23.

    However, the US may not reach its goal, as stepping up such operations goes against the trend of stability, cooperation, and dialogue in Asia-Pacific region.

    The US military’s annual plan aims to send a message to US allies that the US remains committed to securing the Asia-Pacific region, especially East Asia, and will not back away from containing China, Zhu said.

    The scholar also noted that the approved plan will impact China-US relations.

    In fact, the US Congress has debated what impact the plan would have in the South China Sea.

    Some have realized that so-called “freedom of navigation” exercises will not put an end to China’s claims over the South China Sea, which are based on sovereignty and jurisprudential evidences. The unilateral move by US navy will just put more pressure on China and further aggravate the situation in the South China Sea, which is something that the international community, including ASEAN countries, is reluctant to see, he added.

    This article originally appeared in the Global Times.

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    James Mattis, Donald Trump, South China Sea
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