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Analysts and government officials with interest in the South China Sea imbroglio have been befuddled by the mixed signals being sent by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration regarding China’s claims and actions there. Apparently this prevarication is an example of Trump’s “transactional” approach to foreign policy. But this is not just a matter of style. Trump’s backpedaling and bargaining has some prime implications for the security paradigm in the region — and perhaps beyond.

Some commentators welcomed the Trump administration’s early statements indicating it would be “tough” on China. His rhetoric during the presidential campaign and early statements from his Cabinet nominees indicated that Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea would become more frequent during his administration.

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