Officials of the Philippines military visited a disputed island in the South China sea recently. Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana, along with the nation’s military chief of staff, and forty journalists visited the island of Thitu, which lies nearby to the Chinese-held Subi Reef. China warned the officials that they were encroaching on Chinese territory and that they should tread carefully. The visit by the minister of defense comes after reports of Filipino fishermen being harassed by Chinese coast guard vessels. The island is currently under the control of the Philippines. An additional goal of the visit was to inspect and investigate the island’s suitability for further construction of and improvements to military facilities on the island, including the lengthening of the island’s runway to accommodate larger aircraft. In addition to building on the island, the Philippines expects to build and fortify eight nearby smaller atolls.

This situation has the potential to put the United States in a precarious position. The construction activities that will soon begin on the island of Thitu will no doubt bring a protest by China and have to potential to further escalate the conflict that is ongoing in the South China sea. Additionally, other countries, like Vietnam, may look at the Philippines recent decision regarding Thitu and decide to fortify islands under their control. If such an event occurs and more states declare exclusion zones around these fortified islands, as China has done with restricted airspace and waters around its reclaimed islands, then freedom of navigation and overflight will be affected. Additionally, U.S. foreign policy may also be impacted by the move towards instability in the region, potentially affecting our trade with important partners like China, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

The Trump administration should, in my opinion, continue with the status quo. In keeping with previous administrations, the Trump administration should not take any position on competing claims between nations in the region. Any support voiced for a contested claim may damage our trade relationships; however, the administration should, if need be, take a position on how these territorial claims are argued because they may impact U.S. interests like freedom of navigation.

This article is good, however, I found it lacking in some historical background about the dispute.