The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga sail in formation with 16 other ships during Keen Sword in the Philippine Sea, November 2018.
Kalia V. Peters / U.S. Navy via REUTERS

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,

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  • GREGORY POLING is Director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and a Fellow in the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
  • BONNIE GLASER is a Senior Adviser for Asia and Director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
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