Still, analysts agree that there is a dizzying degree of uncertainty within the Trump administration. Jonathan Spangler, director of the Taipei-based South China Sea Think Tank, pointed out that many senior members of Trump’s cabinets have made “off-the-cuff remarks that reflect their misinformed perspectives” on Asia-Pacific security issues. He said that secretary of defence James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, was the only official who seemed to have a clear grasp of the intricacies involved in regional politics.

China, Spangler added, seems to be biding its time amid confusion in Washington, issuing statements denouncing the US’ actions and waiting to see how far Trump will go to preserve his tough-talking persona.

“The reality is that disarray in Washington can only hurt US interests and weaken its global leadership role,” he said. “Beijing, in turn, may eventually benefit from this.”

How ‘routine’ are the new US patrols in the South China Sea?

From interview transcript:

“As part of its Freedom of Navigation Program, the US Navy has challenged what it views as excessive maritime claims since for decades and publicly releases a record of these each year. Most of these receive little or no media coverage. However, given the high-profile nature of the South China Sea disputes and US government decisions to publicize its operations there, its naval operations in the area – routine as they may be – have sparked heated debate among observers and criticism by Chinese officials, who see US presence in the waters as unwelcome interference in domestic and regional affairs.”

“Of the relevant officials in the Trump administration, Secretary of Defense James Mattis seems to be the only one with a clear grasp of US interests as relate to Asia-Pacific regional security, the risks involved in sudden policy shifts, and the nuances of regional diplomatic relations. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and President Donald Trump himself have all made off-the-cuff remarks that reflect their misinformed perspectives on Asia-Pacific regional security issues and threaten to be detrimental to long-term US interests in the region and around the world.”

“Beijing seems to be taking a relatively patient approach to dealing with the unpredictable Trump administration as it tries to develop a cohesive policy approach to major global issues, including the South China Sea. The reality is that disarray in Washington can only hurt US interests and weaken its global leadership role. Beijing, in turn, may eventually benefit from this if the Trump administration continues have difficulty advancing a clear and consistent Asia-Pacific security policy approach.”