The U.S. Coast Guard will expand its permanent presence in the Western Pacific to ward off any possible Chinese incursion and curb illegal activities within the region, USCG Commandant Admiral Karl L. Schultz said.
“I think I would say being here in the region, in Guam, in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, had a meeting here in the recent day or so with the U.S. Ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia –there are clear indicators that the Chinese are operating in the region,” Schultz said in a teleconference with Asia Pacific media on Wednesday.
Schultz said “additional presence” of Chinese forces have been detected in Yap. “I think that is a factual finding, and again, the Coast Guard," he added, "we are a domestic-based organization with global reach and global capabilities, but there’s a capacity limit in that.”
Several Pacific island nations have welcomed China into their jurisdictions, lured by Beijing's increasing aid.
"I think what we’re looking at, with some of the island nations, the partners, is to be a partner of choice, to offer the exchange of capabilities and professional exchanges with the regional partners," Schultz said.
By next month, the USCG will deploy more assets to the Pacific islands region through Operation AIGA (Samoan for “family.”)
“An initial 30-day deployment of multi-mission cutters, including a 225-foot buoy tender and one of these brand-new Fast Response Cutters, will provide specialized capability to our partners in the region,” Schultz said. “With this small footprint, we will deliver variety and convenience to their doorstep, tailored to the needs of each island nation.”
Last year, USCG deployed two of its flagships, the National Security Cutters Stratton and Bertholf, in support of the Department of Defense Combatant Commander in the the Indo-Pacific Command.
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“Our enduring role is not to replace or duplicate Department of Defense assets or capabilities, but to employ our unique authorities and capabilities to complement Department of Defense forces,” Schultz said.
He said National Security Cutters, which feature sophisticated command-and-control systems, deploy globally to strengthen maritime governance, advance national collection requirements, and confront threats to the United States.
In two to three years, Schultz said, USCG will homeport three of its new assets, the Fast Response Cutter.
On Tuesday, USCG broke ground in Guam on the maintenance support building that will support assets operating in the Oceania region. In a report released on May 3, the Department of Defense said Beijing had plans to expand its overseas military presence, targeting strategic regions to protect its investments in its ambitious One Belt One Road global infrastructure program.
DoD identified the Western Pacific, along with the Middle East, Southeast Asia, as China’s target locations to expand the People’s Liberation Army. “China’s overseas military basing will be constrained by the willingness of potential host countries to support a PLA presence,” the report said.
“The U.S. Coast Guard has an enduring role in the Indo-Pacific Region, going back over 150 years, and our commitment today is as strong as ever,” Schultz said.
“The addition of the Fast Response Cutters will significantly increase Coast Guard presence throughout the region,” Schultz said.
He added that the Coast Guard’s increased capability and capacity will provide more frequent and longer patrols to protect the exclusive economic zone from illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing and related threats as well as increasing drug trafficking threats to the region.