A report by the the National Institute for South China Sea Studies suggests that a central feature of US foreign policy under the incoming administration will be "absolute control" over the contested region.
Although Trump did not discuss the South China Sea much on the campaign trail, Wu Shicun, who heads the organization, commented, "There will be no overturning change to U.S. policy in the South China Sea."
When speaking of China, the President-elect tended to focus primarily on economic issues between Washington and Beijing, accusing the country of being a "currency manipulator" and threatening to enact trade tariffs on imported Chinese goods.
Beijing has responded to these threats by stating its intent to assert its trade rights under the World Trade Organization’s tariff regulations. Deputy international trade representative Zhang Xiangchen told a news conference on Thursday, "I think after Mr. Trump takes office, he will be reminded that the United States should honor its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization," Zhang said through an interpreter. “And as a member of the WTO, China also has the right to ensure its rights as a WTO member."
Although the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have territorial claims in the South China Sea, Beijing resents what it perceives as attempts by Washington to block China’s growing influence in the region. Zhu Feng, director of the South China Sea Center at Nanjing University, said at the report’s launch that there will likely be “more continuity than change” during the Trump presidency. He reasoned that Trump will toe the same line as Republican presidents in the past, and simply increase military spending in the Pacific.
The report read, "From the US perspective, China's large-scale construction activities in the South China Sea confirmed US suspicion that China intended to implement an anti-access/area-denial strategy."
Zhu clarified that the report’s release was not a shot across the bow at Washington, but rather an attempt to avoid an arms race between the world’s two largest economies.