US President Donald Trump has approved a plan giving the country’s navy more freedom to carry out patrols in the South China Sea and put pressure on China’s efforts to enlarge its military presence by artificially building reefs and atolls in the area.
Analysts believe that the move will add to the uncertainties over Sino-US elations and regional security issues. It is also seen as a challenge to Beijing’s maritime claims over most of the South China Sea and its attempts to overrule overlapping claims by five other countries, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines.
The plan, submitted to the White House in April by the Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, outlines a full-year schedule of when the US navy ships will sail through contested waters in the South China Sea.
The navy will enjoy a lot more freedom than it did during the Obama administration, which insisted on the National Security Council approving major operational decisions.
The move will make it difficult for China to deal with its territorial disputes with other countries such as India and Japan at a time when the Communist Party is preparing for a conclave which will see major political changes.
In 2016, an international court at The Hague deemed China’s maritime claims unlawful and excessive, but China rejected the ruling outright and has continued to build military installations and unilaterally declare no-fly and no-sail zones.
When a country makes an excessive naval claim, the US Navy challenges it by sailing its ships, usually destroyers, close to the disputed territory or through the disputed waters as a way of ensuring freedom of navigation for all.
China has responded forcefully to US incursions into the region, telling the US the moves were provocative and that they must ask permission, which doesn’t align with international law or UN conventions.