Posted tagged ‘Trump and China’

Military options strengthening Trump’s diplomatic hand with North Korea?

October 9, 2017

Military options strengthening Trump’s diplomatic hand with North Korea? Fox News via YouTube, October 9, 2017

(Please see also, Britain leaks battle planning for war North Korea. — DM)

 

The Kerfuffle Before the Storm

October 8, 2017

The Kerfuffle Before the Storm, PJ MediaClaudia Rosett, October 7, 2017

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, center, poses for a group photo with Senior Military leaders and spouses in the State Dining Room of the White House on Oct. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The first priority for any president inheriting this virulent global mess should be to try as far as possible to reclaim America’s credibility; to persuade America’s enemies  that the bargain sale on U.S. interests is over, and America will, if necessary, wield its full military might to defend itself, its allies and interests. That is vital to deterrence, which — if genuinely effective — is vastly preferable to war.

The conundrum is how America can regain the credibility needed for deterrence, without having to resort to war in order to prove the point. For instance, unless Kim Jong Un truly believes that the U.S. might actually attack North Korea despite the potential horrific cost, why should he back down? Why should he worry about U.S. warships and submarines in the region? It’s an impressive show of military hardware, but is it a credible threat?

For an American president faced with this problem, one move worth attempting would be to gather America’s top military commanders for a meeting at the White House, followed by a dinner with their spouses, and invite the press to come witness and report on this conclave. If, in the midst of this genial scene, the president mentions that this is the calm before the storm, it may be baffling and frustrating to reporters — whose job includes nailing down details. But in capitals such as Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang, it might just help prompt a rethink about the assumption — gleaned from their success in rogue ventures during the tenure of Obama — that America is a hamstrung giant.

There’s always the possibility that it was more than a broad warning — that perhaps Trump is indeed about to launch a specific military action. But to whatever extent this cliffhanger helps concentrate minds in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang on just how unpleasant it could be to provoke an American storm,  it was an important message. Quite possibly a bid to avert a war, rather than start one. Worth the kerfuffle in the press.

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With the phrase “the calm before the storm,” President Trump on Thursday evening kicked off one of the biggest media kerfuffles since his late-night tweet in May about “the constant negative press covfefe.” That mysterious locution produced a spate of stories speculating sardonically on what the president meant. We’re now hearing a similar round of mockery. But this was no late-night typo in a tweet, and while offended members of the media default to derision, it’s worth considering that the president quite likely sent a useful message to an audience that extends way beyond the White House press corps.

The setting was a dinner for top U.S. military commanders and their spouses, hosted by Trump in the White House State Dining Room. Trump invited reporters in for a brief photo-op. Flanked by military officials who have dedicated themselves to defending America and winning its wars, all gathered with their spouses under a big portrait of President Lincoln. Trump asked the reporters, “You guys know what this represents?”

“Tell us, sir,” said one of the reporters.

“Maybe it’s the calm before the storm,” said Trump. A reporter asked, “What storm?” Trump gave the oblique reply, “We have the world’s greatest military people in this room, I will tell you that.” A reporter asked, again, “What storm?” Trump said, “You’ll find out.”

The entire exchange lasted about 30 seconds. The reporters were thanked and dismissed. The media were left to speculate on whether the “storm” referred to impending military action again North Korea, or maybe plans to back away from President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, or something else, or nothing at all. Asked again by reporters on Friday what he meant by “the calm before the storm,” Trump again declined to clarify, saying again, “You’ll find out.”

This has been playing as a crazy-Trump story. CNN came out with the headline: “Trump is treating a potential war like a reality show cliffhanger,” and warned, “This is no reality show… His words — whether he means them as a tease, a threat or something in between — can have very real consequences.” Esquire called Trump “Our Reality TV President” and asked, “Will the season finale involve nuclear war with North Korea?” The New York Times called Trump’s comment “ominous.” NBC called it “provocative.” Politico called it “unprompted.” The Huffington Post, in a headline, called it “Bizarre.”

I’d call it smart. We don’t know precisely what the president had in mind. But we do know — or we ought to know — this: In world politics, there is a gathering storm that threatens America and our allies. There is a rising network of tyrannies hostile to American interests and values, including most prominently Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. The U.S. superpower can face down any one of these actors if it must, but the disturbing trajectory is that for years now — whatever their differences — they have effectively been making common cause against America and the requirements of a free and peaceful world order. They do illicit business together; they often back each other diplomatically, and they learn from each other just how much it is possible to get away with. Russia and China have been carrying out joint military maneuvers. North Korea, longtime weapons dealer to Iran, is cultivating an arsenal of nuclear missiles. The threats compound.

This trend accelerated dramatically during the years of America’s policies of retreat, appeasement, and surrender under President Obama. China, as part of its military buildup, sped up its construction of artificial islands topped with military bases clearly designed to threaten freedom of navigation along vital shipping routes in Southeast Asia. Russia snatched Crimea from Ukraine, and got away with it. Terrorist-sponsoring Iran extended its reach in the Middle East, and is currently benefitting from a rotten nuclear deal that paves its way to the bomb, accessorized with ballistic missiles. Syria disintegrated into war, which opened the way for both the rise of ISIS and military inroads by Vladimir Putin’s Russia into the Middle East. Libya, with America leading-from-behind, disintegrated into terrorist-infested chaos.

And North Korea, which had carried out one nuclear test in 2006 on the watch of President Bush, conducted four more tests during the tenure of Obama, along with scores of ballistic missile tests, while Kim Jong Un consolidated his hold on the totalitarian throne inherited in 2011 from his father. Taking advantage of Obama’s “strategic patience” to ramp up a rogue nuclear program, Kim Jong Un’s regime was ready to greet the Trump administration with an arsenal that by now appears quite convincingly to include long-range missiles, miniaturized warheads and the hydrogen bomb.

None of this is a figment of Trump’s imagination. Neither is it a prop on some reality TV show. It is real.

This is not of Trump’s making. But given the rate at which the threats and crises have been compounding, it falls to him to cope with a greatly emboldened group of increasingly well armed and predatory powers. This has been made all the more difficult by the enormous amount of U.S. credibility that was squandered by Obama — who gutted the U.S. military, bore passive “witness” to upheaval in Iran, erased his own red line over chemical weapons in Syria, threw away the hard-won progress in Iraq, bungled Afghanistan and Libya, promised (and delivered) flexibility to Putin, deferred to China, embraced Cuba, shrugged off the rising nuclear threat of North Korea, and assured the American public that the tide of war was receding.

The first priority for any president inheriting this virulent global mess should be to try as far as possible to reclaim America’s credibility; to persuade America’s enemies  that the bargain sale on U.S. interests is over, and America will, if necessary, wield its full military might to defend itself, its allies and interests. That is vital to deterrence, which — if genuinely effective — is vastly preferable to war.

The conundrum is how America can regain the credibility needed for deterrence, without having to resort to war in order to prove the point. For instance, unless Kim Jong Un truly believes that the U.S. might actually attack North Korea despite the potential horrific cost, why should he back down? Why should he worry about U.S. warships and submarines in the region? It’s an impressive show of military hardware, but is it a credible threat?

For an American president faced with this problem, one move worth attempting would be to gather America’s top military commanders for a meeting at the White House, followed by a dinner with their spouses, and invite the press to come witness and report on this conclave. If, in the midst of this genial scene, the president mentions that this is the calm before the storm, it may be baffling and frustrating to reporters — whose job includes nailing down details. But in capitals such as Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang, it might just help prompt a rethink about the assumption — gleaned from their success in rogue ventures during the tenure of Obama — that America is a hamstrung giant.

Whether that was Trump’s intention, I don’t know. It sure looked that way. In the phrase that so alarmed CNN and Esquire, there was a useful ambiguity. Trump didn’t guarantee a storm; he merely suggested it could happen. Surrounded by his top military commanders, in the seat of American power that is the White House, the commander-in-chief prefaced his statement about “the calm before the storm” with “maybe.” It was, in a genteel and peaceful setting, a warning not to mess with America.

There’s always the possibility that it was more than a broad warning — that perhaps Trump is indeed about to launch a specific military action. But to whatever extent this cliffhanger helps concentrate minds in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang on just how unpleasant it could be to provoke an American storm,  it was an important message. Quite possibly a bid to avert a war, rather than start one. Worth the kerfuffle in the press.

U.S. Threatens to Cutoff China, Russia for Undermining Sanctions Against North Korea

September 12, 2017

U.S. Threatens to Cutoff China, Russia for Undermining Sanctions Against North Korea, Washington Free Beacon, September 12, 2017

(Please see also, UN Passes Mega-Ultra Toughest-Ever North Korea Sanctions, Again.– DM)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attends a meeting with a committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea about the test of a hydrogen bomb / Getty Images

“Unfortunately, I cannot tell the committee today that we’ve seen sufficient evidence of China’s willingness to truly shut down North Korea’s revenue flows, to expunge North Korean illicit actors from its banking system, or to expel the various North Korean middlemen and brokers who are continuing to establish webs of front companies,” he said.

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The Trump administration on Tuesday threatened to cut off from the U.S. financial system Chinese and Russian companies helping North Korea smuggle coal overseas to circumvent international sanctions on Pyongyang’s nuclear activities.

Marshall Billingslea, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, provided Congress with intelligence images mapping North Korea’s illicit shipping networks used to mask the origin of exported coal to China and Russia.

The images appear to expose China and Russia’s covert hand in undermining international pressure on the Kim Jong Un regime to give up its nuclear ambitions, despite the two nations voting publicly on several occasions at the United Nations Security Council to strengthen sanctions.

“North Korea has been living under United Nations sanctions for over a decade and it has nevertheless made significant strides toward its goal of building a nuclear tipped ICBM,” Billingslea testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, referring to the regime’s pursuit of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States mainland.

“I urge anyone in the financial services industry who might be implicated in the establishment of shell or front companies for [North Korea], and anyone who is aware of such entities, to come forward with that information now, before they find themselves swept up in our net,” he said.

The Treasury Department estimates North Korean coal shipments bring in more than $1 billion in annual revenue for the regime, in part enabling Kim Jong Un to generate income used to fund ballistic missile and nuclear programs. Though the UN Security Council over the past month has passed two separate sanctions packages targeting North Korea’s coal industry, illicit coal-smuggling networks through China and Russia have watered down the impact, according to the Trump administration.

Citing the intelligence images provided to Congress on Tuesday, Billingslea said North Korean shipping vessels routinely shut off their transponders in violation of international maritime law to avoid detection as they move from North Korea into Chinese or Russian ports to offload sanctioned coal.

The Treasury Department is also tracking North Korea’s effort to penetrate the international financial system through shell companies based in China and Russia to help conceal the regime’s overseas footprint. Billingslea warned the Trump administration will punish any company in violation of UN sanctions by choking it off from the U.S. financial market.

Though he lauded China for supporting a recent round of UN sanctions, he said Beijing has not yet shown it is serious about cutting off North Korean funding.

“Unfortunately, I cannot tell the committee today that we’ve seen sufficient evidence of China’s willingness to truly shut down North Korea’s revenue flows, to expunge North Korean illicit actors from its banking system, or to expel the various North Korean middlemen and brokers who are continuing to establish webs of front companies,” he said.

Donald Trump Wins Round One with North Korea

August 11, 2017

Donald Trump Wins Round One with North Korea, BreitbartJoel B. Pollak, August 11, 2017

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Update: Fourth, the Chinese government is now indicating that it will not defend North Korea from a retaliatory strike if the regime attacks the U.S. (which includes Guam). The Global Times, which reflects the view of the Chinese government, indicated that China would stop the U.S. from trying to overthrow the North Korean regime but would not defend North Korea if it struck the U.S. first. That is a significant change from the status quo ante.

The situation remains unstable, and could escalate. But Trump’s rhetoric is not, as former Obama adviser Susan Rice claims, the problem. In fact, it is part of the solution. It has, at the very least, restored some of our deterrence.

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The mainstream media are aghast at President Donald Trump’s comments on North Korea as he promises “fire and fury” and warns that American military solutions are “locked and loaded.”

The political elite, and the foreign policy establishment, oscillate between bitter scorn and sheer panic at his tactics. But one does not have to be convinced of Trump’s rhetorical genius to note that he has already re-framed the conflict in a way that is advantageous to the U.S.

First, Trump has radically changed the costs of a potential conflict, for both sides. The dominant paradigm of nuclear face-offs is mutually assured destruction (MAD), which is why the Soviet Union and the U.S. never attacked each other during the Cold War. Most of the discussion about North Korea has followed the same pattern, because of the threat of ICBMs to the U.S. mainland. After Trump threatened to annihilate North Korea, however, Kim Jong-un threatened to attack … Guam. Trump doubled down, indicating that a North Korean attack on Guam would trigger an attack against the regime. That shifted the costs of a war radically in our favor and against theirs.

Second, it is noteworthy that the North Korean threat to Guam did not refer to nuclear weapons, but rather hinted at conventional missile strikes. There is no way to know for sure that the regime would not use nuclear weapons, if indeed the North Koreans can miniaturize them, but a conventional attack is certainly less serious than a nuclear one. In threatening the most violent possible attack, Trump elicited a response that is significantly less threatening.

Third, Trump diverted attention away from North Korea’s more vulnerable neighbors, South Korea and Japan. Of course the North Koreans could attack them if the U.S. launched a war. But instead of talking about the potential deaths of millions of people in densely-populated areas, the world is now talking about the qualms felt by a few people on a remote island. That makes Trump’s words look less scary, and eases pressure for the U.S. to back down.

Update: Fourth, the Chinese government is now indicating that it will not defend North Korea from a retaliatory strike if the regime attacks the U.S. (which includes Guam). The Global Times, which reflects the view of the Chinese government, indicated that China would stop the U.S. from trying to overthrow the North Korean regime but would not defend North Korea if it struck the U.S. first. That is a significant change from the status quo ante.

The situation remains unstable, and could escalate. But Trump’s rhetoric is not, as former Obama adviser Susan Rice claims, the problem. In fact, it is part of the solution. It has, at the very least, restored some of our deterrence.

Trump, Putin, Xi: Talking fades to shows of force

July 31, 2017

Trump, Putin, Xi: Talking fades to shows of force, DEBKAfile, July 31, 2017

(Please see also, Haley Says ‘No Value’ in Another UN Resolution Against North Korea: ‘The Time for Talk Is Over’. — DM)

The message from Beijing was clear: The threat to Chicago and Los Angeles would have to be dealt with by the White House in Washington, not Beijing.

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Over the weekend, three world leaders, US president Donald Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s leader Xi Jinping stepped off the diplomatic path over their differences on world issues and switched to displays of military might.

In a show of force after North Korea’s two ICBM tests, two US B-1B bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons, escorted by South Korean and Japanese fighters, took off from Guam Saturday, July 29 and cut across the Korean peninsula. There was no word on whether they entered North Korean skies.

Further west, US Vice President Mike Pence toured East European capitals. Speaking in Tallinn, Estonia, he assured “our Baltic allies” – as well as Georgia and Montenegro, his next destinations: “We are with you and will stand with you on behalf of freedom.”  He said that the president would soon sign the latest round of sanctions voted on by Congress, since “Russia’s destabilizing activities and support for rogue regimes and its activities in Ukraine are unacceptable.”

Shortly after President Donald Trump criticized China over failing to deal with North Korea, President Xi Jinping in a general’s uniform viewed a huge military parade Sunday marking the People’s Liberation Army’s 90th anniversary. Xi is the PLA’s commander in chief. Whereas the annual parade usually takes place in Beijing, this one was staged at the remote Zhurihe military base in Inner Mongolia., with the participation of 12,000 soldiers, 100 bombers and fighters and a display of 600 weapons systems, 40 percent of them new products of China’s arms industries.
“The world isn’t safe at the moment,” the Chinese president told his people. “A strong army is needed more than ever.”

The Russian president meanwhile showcased his naval might in a huge parade of vessels stretching from the Dnieper River in Moscow to Saint Petersburg, through the Baltic port of Kaliningrad, to Crimea on the Black Sea and up to Russia’s Syrian base at Tartus.  Taking part were 50 warships and submarines.

Standing on the deck of the presidential warship as it sailed past the Kremlin’s walls, Putin congratulated the Russian navy on its great advances.

He then disembarked, headed to his office and ordered 755 U.S. diplomats to leave the country by Sept. 1, in retaliation for the new round of sanctions against Russia ordered by the US Congress. More than 1,000 people are currently employed at the Moscow embassy and three US consulates in Russia.

“We waited for quite some time that maybe something will change for the better, had much hope that the situation will somehow change, but, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon,” Putin said. “It is time for us to show that we will not leave anything unanswered.” He added menacingly that there are many areas of Russian-American cooperation whose discontinuation would be harmful to the US. “I hope we don’t have to go there,” he said.

These muscle-flexing steps by the three world powers add up to an ominous shift from their brink-of-cold war diplomatic interaction to a new level with the potential for tipping over into limited military clashes.

The penny has finally dropped for Trump that President Xi has no intention of cracking down on North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, even though he declared after a successful second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that “the US mainland is without our striking range.”

The message from Beijing was clear: The threat to Chicago and Los Angeles would have to be dealt with by the White House in Washington, not Beijing.

Xi may accept that the US president may eventually be forced to take some military action against North Korea’s missile and nuclear facilities. But he may also be counting on such action being a one-off, like the 59-US Tomahawk missile barrage that hit the Syrian air base of Shayrat on April 7.  Because that dramatic strike was not the start of an organized campaign against the regime in Damascus, it failed to unseat Bashar Assad and in fact made him stronger. Once America has vented its anger, the Chinese president hopes its military offensive against Kim will be over and done with.

For six months, Putin waited to see whether Trump was able to beat down the media-boosted war waged against his presidency by political and intelligence enemies at home, much of it focused on the Russian dimension. His patience with the US president and his troubles at home is clearly at an end.

On Sunday, July 30, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the new sanctions “completely weird and unacceptable,” adding “If the US side decides to move further towards further deterioration we will answer, we will respond in kind. We will mirror this. We will retaliate,” he stressed.

The gloves have clearly come off for the ramping up of friction among the three powers in the various world flashpoint arenas, whether in Europe, the Far East, or other places.

Haley Says ‘No Value’ in Another UN Resolution Against North Korea: ‘The Time for Talk Is Over’

July 31, 2017

Haley Says ‘No Value’ in Another UN Resolution Against North Korea: ‘The Time for Talk Is Over’ Washington Free Beacon , July 31, 2017

( Sounds like serious shit… – JW )

Nikki Haley / Getty Images

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Sunday that she is ready to take action and not just hold more talks following North Korea’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch.

Haley released a statement denying that the U.S. was seeking to form an emergency session at the U.N. She said that it would be useless and even counterproductive to further sanction the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un without action.

“There is no point in having an emergency session if it produces nothing of consequence,” she said. “North Korea is already subject to numerous Security Council resolutions that they violate with impunity and that are not complied with by all U.N. Member States.”

“An additional security council resolution that does not significantly increase the international pressure on North Korea is of no value,” Haley said. “In fact, it is worse than nothing, because it sends the message to the North Korean dictator that the international community is unwilling to seriously challenge him.”

She directly addressed China, the regime’s closest ally, and said that Beijing must intervene. China has insisted that it is not responsible for North Korea, even as the U.S. has accused the Chinese leadership of propping up Pyongyang.

“China must decide whether it is finally willing to take this vital step. The time for talk is over,” Haley said. “The danger the North Korean regime poses to international peace is now clear to all.”

President Donald Trump also focused his Twitter fire on China. He said on Saturday that China does nothing on North Korea despite having “easy” options to “solve this problem.”

I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet…

…they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!

China hit back on Monday after Trump’s tweets. The Chinese Foreign Ministry, in a statement sent to Reuters, said the international community needs to work together to address the North Korean nuclear issue and that China is not responsible for Pyongyang’s aggression.

South Korea announced Saturday that it will begin talking with the Trump administration about expanding the country’s nuclear capabilities. The Chinese have opposed any actions that would put Seoul in control of nuclear weapons.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also told reporters that the Trump administration promised to “take all necessary measures to protect” Japan.

North Korea launched its latest test missile into Japanese waters on Friday.

EXCLUSIVE: Trump’s Pentagon Plans to Challenge Chinese Claims in South China Sea

July 21, 2017

EXCLUSIVE: Trump’s Pentagon Plans to Challenge Chinese Claims in South China Sea, BreitbartKristina Wong, July 20, 2017

AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File

The Trump administration has already conducted three FONOPs in the South China Sea since May. The Obama administration conducted three during all of last year.

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President Trump approved a Pentagon plan this year that will require regular challenges to China’s excessive maritime claims in the South China Sea, Breitbart News has learned.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sent the plan to the White House in April that outlines a schedule for the whole year of when U.S. Navy ships will sail through international waters China illegally claims, according to a U.S. official.

Although the U.S. Navy has routinely conducted these “freedom of navigation operations” all around the world for decades, the Obama administration put a stop on them in the South China Sea from 2012 to 2015, with only a few in 2016, out of concern for upsetting China.

Under Obama, the Pentagon would send requests for FONOPs to the National Security Council, where they would stall. There was a concern “of doing anything that would cause anybody to get their feathers ruffled,” the official said.

During that time, China began aggressively building up islands and reefs in the South China Sea and increasingly placing military equipment on them, even though the territory is also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines.

Under the new plan, the White House will already be aware of the planned operations so that they will not be “a surprise” every time a request comes up the chain of command, and they will be approved faster than before, the official said.

Having them approved faster will allow the operations to be conducted on a “very routine, very regular” basis, with the benefit of making each operation part of a regular program to keep the waters open, versus a “one-off event.”

Under the Obama administration, the operations were requested, considered, and approved in a “one-off” fashion, which took longer to approve and gave the impression that they were in response to something specific China had done, rather than part of routine naval operations.

It is not clear yet whether the plan is part of a larger Asia Pacific strategy or for the narrower purpose of making FONOPs more routine in the area. But one expert said the frequency of FONOPs do have importance in and of themselves.

“The frequency of FONOPs is often seen as a litmus test, for better or worse, of American commitment,” Joseph Liow, dean of comparative and international politics at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said at a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies event.

The Trump administration has already conducted three FONOPs in the South China Sea since May. The Obama administration conducted three during all of last year.

“You have a definite return to normal,” Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White told Breitbart News.

“This administration has definitely given the authority back to the people who are in the best position to execute those authorities, so it’s a return to normal,” she said.

Although the U.S. does not take sides in the numerous South China Sea territorial disputes, the U.S. military conducts FONOPs there to ensure waters remain open to international commerce. An estimated $5 trillion in goods are transported through the area each year.

Under the plan, FONOP requests will begin with the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, go up to Pacific Fleet, to Pacific Command, to the Pentagon, and then to the National Security Council.

The Pentagon will also send the requests to the State Department the same time they are sent to the NSC, to make sure they do not undermine any concurrent diplomatic initiatives, the official said.

Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, said, “having regular, steady deployments of U.S. naval assets conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea is a good thing – and something I support 100 percent.”

“China must know we will surely operate wherever allowed by international law, just like Beijing does when they conduct missions around Guam, Hawaii or near Alaska. This is standard military operating procedure and codified in international law. In fact, it shouldn’t even be controversial,” he said.

In May, a bipartisan group of senators urged the Trump administration to conduct FONOPs in the South China Sea, expressing concern that one had not been conducted since last October.

“In recent years, China, in particular, has taken a series of aggressive steps in disputed areas of the South China Sea,” they wrote. “We believe that United States engagement in the South China Sea remains essential to continue to protect freedom of navigation and overflight and to uphold international law.”

Early on in the Trump administration, FONOP requests being sent to the Pentagon were not being approved and forwarded to the White House, as first reported by Breitbart News in March, and later by the New York Times in May.

The official said at the time that Mattis did not want to approve and send up any piecemeal requests to the White House until an overall plan could be devised.

The plan was approved before the first FONOP was conducted on May 24, when the destroyer USS Dewey sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. On July 2, the destroyer USS Stethem sailed within 12 miles of Triton Island in the Paracel Islands. On July 6, two Air Force B-1B Lancers flew over the East and South China Seas.

The official said FONOPs will still remain “a tool in our tool bag to show [when] we don’t agree with something.”

Kazianis warned, however, that FONOPs cannot be the sole instrument Washington uses to push back against China’s excessive claims, as was the case under the Obama administration.

“The Trump Administration needs to layout a comprehensive strategy to push back against China’s coercive and bullying actions that stretch from the East China Sea all the way to the depths of the South China Sea. If not, in a few years’ time, Beijing will be the unquestioned master of the Asia-Pacific – something Washington simply can’t allow,” he said.

Liow agreed: “The non-military toolkit … is also quite important and needs to be developed.”