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12 May 2017 | Jared Dummitt
This week, American officials sought to allay concerns that Washington is failing to address China’s activities in the South China Sea, which have showed no signs of slowing. On Monday, U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Scott Swift defended the lack of U.S. Navy Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea. He said that the Trump administration has not changed U.S. Navy policy regarding FONOPs, which are maneuvers designed to assert the right of ships to travel freely in the disputed waters. All of the Navy’s requests to conduct such operations in the South China Sea have been denied by the Pentagon since President Trump took office.
Many analysts have speculated that the lack of American FONOPs has been driven by President Trump’s desire to avoid aggravating China as he seeks to enlist President Xi’s assistance in denuclearizing North Korea. According to Richard Heydarian of De La Salle University in Manila, FONOPs “have become over the past three years a reliable benchmark of assessing how far the U.S. is willing to go to check China's rising assertiveness in the South China Sea.”