The US Coast Guard is touting increased operations in the Western Pacific, thousands of miles from American shores, as China’s coast guard and civilian fishing militias increasingly
assert the country’s territorial claims.
A presence in the South China Sea and elsewhere will help enforce the sovereignty of partner nations in the disputed waters, US Coast Guard Pacific Area Commander Vice Admiral Linda Fagan told a conference call. Coast Guard cutters USCGC Bertholf and USCGC Stratton are being deployed with the Seventh Fleet based in Yokosuka, Japan.
The ships will help “law enforcement and capacity-building in the fisheries enforcement realm,” Fagan said.
The move comes amid complaints from Asian nations about Chinese efforts to assert territorial claims in the East and South China seas.
Besides a growing navy, China has centralised military control over its 200-ship China Coast Guard, equipped the force with larger ships and deputised civilian vessels to assist in the operations.
The resource-stretched US Navy has already put the American coast guard vessels to work, with the Bertholf joining a transit through the Taiwan Strait in March. Last month, the US Coast Guard staged a joint exercise with two Philippine vessels in Chinese-claimed waters, reportedly sailing past two Chinese ships in the process.
It was the first visit by the US Coast Guard in seven years, Fagan said, adding the return to engagement was in line with prior actions and consistent with international law.
“It is a recognised international strait and our ships sail through there,” Fagan said.
China asserts control over more than 80 percent of the South China Sea, a key shipping route also claimed by Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
This is the time of year when China enforces a fishing plan
off its shores, often resulting
in confrontations between its coast guard and foreign fishing fleets. Vietnam and the Philippines have repeatedly complained of harassment from Chinese coast guard vessels, while Philippine officials have reported increased sightings of Chinese militia off the country’s coasts.
Two China Coast Guard vessels and two other militia
boats were spotted circling
the disputed Scarborough Shoal, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Captain Armand Balilo said in statement.
The US Coast Guard was seeking to support Pacific partners in the region, Fagan said.