On Jan. 7, the USS McCampbell conducted a freedom of navigation operation near three features in the Paracel Islands chain. This was the ninth known operation conducted by the Trump administration, which has undertaken South China Sea excursions more regularly despite risky Chinese challenges. The operation followed Vice President Mike Pence's assertion last November that “the United States is taking decisive action to protect our interests and promote the Indo-Pacific's shared success.”
Yet a poll released this week showed that two-thirds of respondents in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) believe U.S. engagement with Southeast Asia has declined and one-third have little or no confidence in the United States as a strategic partner and regional security provider. In short, for all its tough talk on China and increased activity in the South China Sea, the Trump administration's credibility in Southeast Asia is eroding.