A View from the United States

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Although there is progress regarding the code of conduct (COC) for the South China Sea between ASEAN and China, the South China Sea is not without tensions. China’s first aircraft carrier took part in a naval review, along with latest-generation nuclear submarines, destroyers, and fighter jets in late April, marking the People’s Republic navy’s 70th anniversary. Despite warming up with China, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte recently threatened a "suicide mission" if Beijing does not back off from a Manila-occupied island in the South China Sea. The United States and Japan held a 2+2 meeting reaffirming the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” approach with primary emphasis on the South and East China Seas. In March, the US Navy sent the assault ship USS Wasp — a small aircraft carrier operating 20 F-35B Joint Strike Fighters and a Marine Expeditionary Force — to exercise with the Filipino Navy. In addition to the freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) conducted by the US Navy, the US Coast Guard also turned increasingly towards the Asia-Pacific, dispatching its service members to countries such as Vietnam. In this commentary, I focus on US policies toward Southeast Asia, above all the South China Sea: What is unchanged? How is policy oscillating? And what has been gradually shifting?...

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