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On May 27, two U.S. Navy ships engaged in a freedom of navigation operation near the Paracel Islands to contest China’s excessive maritime claims in the South China Sea. At the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore several days later, when asked about the maneuver by a senior colonel from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Secretary of Defense James Mattis said, “We do not do freedom of navigation for America alone … it’s freedom for all nations, large and small, that need to transit those waters for their own prosperity and they have every reason to do so.” And yet,

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