Monday, January 23, 2017

Trump affirms harder stance on South China Sea

Blocking China's access to disputed South China Sea islands may really be on the table with President Donald Trump's administration.

To recap, this is what Rex Tillerson, recently told a Senate committee about the South China Sea: "We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” 

Did Rex Tillerson really mean that the U.S. would be willing to block access to the disputed areas in the South China Sea? My first reaction was Tillerson was taking an outlier position. But it turns out this may not be the case.

Consider what Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said at a press briefing today: "I think the U.S. is going to make sure that we protect our interests there. So it's a question of if those islands are, in fact, in international waters and not part of China proper, then yes, we're gonna make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country."  (Source, Washington Post transcript.)

It doesn't seem like there's much daylight between the two statements.

Reuters view: Trump White House vows to stop China taking South China Sea islands.

One worrying thing about the Trump administration is this: It seems inclined to blunt-edged policy decisions, such as imposing a federal hiring freeze even if such a action may end up costing the government money, creating headaches for the people it directly serves, such as veterans and Social Security beneficiaries.  Making the IRS that less capable of recovering tax dollars doesn't seem to make too much sense. But that's another issue (and one that hits Guam as well.) Another example of blunt force policy making is its recent action to pullback enforcement of Obamacare absent any replacement plan.

The Diplomat seemed a little nervous in its report about this emerging China policy, but it also optimistically suggest that Spicer and the administration really haven't figured it out. Read: The Trump Administration Needs a Clear South China Sea Policy.

Trump Monday also met with CEOs of a number of major corporations, some of whom source their products from China, such as Dell. I can't imagine these business leaders urging Trump to follow a path with China that could destabilize global markets and trade routes.


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