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Over the course of his two years in office, U.S. President Donald Trump has been vocal in his disdain for most forms of multilateralism. Yet when it comes to two pressing maritime issues in East Asia, his administration sees the value of friends. First is the problem of stopping illegal transfers of fuel to North Korean tankers in the East China Sea, a tactic that Pyongyang uses to skirt U.S. and UN sanctions. To crack down on the smuggling, the United States and Japan have brought together a coalition of states to identify and report vessels engaged in these illicit ship-to-ship transfers.
Then there is the South China Sea, where Beijing continues its military buildup and has doubled down on maritime claims that fly in the face of international law. Navies from within and outside the region have responded to China’s aggressive posturing by undertaking more operations,