For the first time since Donald Trump assumed the presidency of the United States, Washington addressed, finally, the growing problem of China’s military presence in the South China Seas:
“The United States called on China to withdraw its missile systems from disputed features in the Spratly Islands, and reaffirmed that all countries should avoid addressing disputes through coercion and intimidation.”
The United States through its Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is particularly concerned about the militarization of the Spratly Islands located in the South China Sea.
Satellite photos have shown the disputed islands to have been set up with various missile systems.
Pompeo and Mattis discussed the matter with their Chinese counterparts, diplomat Yang Jiechi and Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe during the US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue which was held at Washington.
The U.S. as well as other Southeast Asian nations has become increasingly concerned over China’s militarization of the South China Sea. The consensus belief is that China is trying to establish an air defense zone in an area where more than $3 Trillion worth of trade passes through every year.
The Spratlys are being claimed by the Philippines which filed, and won, an arbitration hearing at The Hague in the Netherlands. The ruling which was handed down on July 2016 granted the Philippines full territorial ownership and rights over the islands contrary to China’s historical claim of a “Nine Dash Line”.
However, Rodrigo Duterte, who was sworn in as the new President of the Philippines one month earlier, chose to ignore the Hague ruling.
During a shocking interview the day before President Duterte’s meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping, Duterte declared that the “islands belong to China”.
Duterte announced that the Philippines had entered into a joint-exploration agreement with China. But the terms and conditions of the agreement were not disclosed by Duterte.
The U.S. and its allies were warned by President Xi not to send ships or fly aircraft near the disputed islands.
However, Mattis made it very clear that the United States would “fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.”
Now that the United States has stated its position on the islands, what will President Trump do? Will he enforce the entire might of the U.S military to remove China’s structures?
Or will he give in to the overtures of his friend, the Filipino President who sang a popular native love song to him during his visit in November 2017 and just leave the islands to China?
That is the $3 Trillion question for the U.S. President.