US Coast Guard strengthens cooperation with partners in Indo-Pacific

Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 30 2023 06:48 PM

US Coast Guard Adm. Linda Fagan applauds as President Joe Biden speaks during a Change of Command ceremony at US Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC, USA, June 1, 2022. Fagan replaced Adm. Karl L. Schultz as Commandant of the Coast Guard. Bonnie Cash, EPA-EFE/File.
US Coast Guard Adm. Linda Fagan applauds as President Joe Biden speaks during a Change of Command ceremony at US Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC, USA, June 1, 2022. Fagan replaced Adm. Karl L. Schultz as Commandant of the Coast Guard. Bonnie Cash, EPA-EFE/File.

MANILA — The United States Coast Guard will continue cooperating not just with its Philippine counterpart but also with its other counterparts in the region, its top official said on Tuesday.

According to US Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Linda Fagan, the US continues to hold its relationship with the Philippines and other regional partners and allies in high regard and believes that maintaining regular exchange will benefit all sides.

“As a global coast guard, we seek opportunities to interoperate both bilaterally and multilaterally with coast guards and navies in the region, so in June, those joint exercises are a direct outcome of those engagements of coast guard to coast guard. The challenges in the region do require the kind of partner-to-partner engagement in a ready-made multilateral opportunity,” Fagan told reporters in a digital press briefing.

“As USCG ships are in the region, we seek those opportunities to either subject matter exchanges, exercises, or multilateral capability exercises as a means to increase each other’s mutual understanding of capabilities and capacities throughout the maritime realm. The exercise in June is just the most recent of a consistent and ongoing collaboration between coast guards in the region and other parts of the world,” she added.

The coast guards of the Philippines, the US, and Japan will hold their first-ever joint maritime drills later this week.

The exercises will be conducted off Mariveles, Bataan from June 1 to 7, and will involve around 400 personnel from the three countries, the Philippine Coast Guard said on Monday.

“The PCG is one the many partner coast guards the USCG engages within the region. As we have ships periodically in the region, we seek opportunities to interoperate with not just the PCG but other coast guards in the region,” Fagan said.

The USCG wants to strengthen its cooperation with partners and allies—especially those having problems with law enforcement in their exclusive economic zones—supporting them in protecting their sovereignty and preventing illegal fishing.

It likewise aims to help strengthen maritime governance in the Indo-Pacific region, Fagan added.

“The US and many Indo-Pacific countries have many shared goals, and the coast guard works to strengthen relationships with partners throughout the region—shared goals of a free and open Indo-Pacific based on the rule of law. Our nations are able to enforce their own sovereignty and there is predictability around maritime governance. Our oceans are global highways that facilitate commerce, provide food to millions of people, and threats to maritime security do not respect borders. So, it’s important that we work together and collaborate together with our partners to solve shared challenges,” the US Coast Guard official explained.

She went on: “Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing threatens the health of our oceans and the well-being of our coastal communities that rely on fishing for their livelihood and food security. IUU fishing is often linked to other criminal activities. The networks that benefit from it are regional and even global, and our response to the illegal activity of IUU fishing must also be regional and global in its reach. IUU fishing is theft and erodes the sovereignty of nations affected by it.”

Fagan continued, “Nations have the right and expectation to enforce their own sovereignty. Many of the problem sets throughout the Indo Pacific are maritime in nature and there’s a maritime governance aspect to the challenge. The USCG’s role in the region is to partner with other coast guards and allies in a way that helps those nations create their own capability and capacity to create presence in their own EEZs, create expertise and understanding on how to enforce their own sovereignty.”

The US also works with ASEAN countries through joint training such as the Southeast Asian Maritime Law Enforcement Initiative.

On the role of the US in the South China Sea, Fagan confirmed there are plans for the US to dispatch additional cutters to conduct maritime freedom patrol campaigns to ensure that the Indo-Pacific region remains open, free, secure, and peaceful.

But is this a reaction to China’s increased deployments in the South China Sea?

“The US as a Pacific nation and the USCG is operating throughout the Pacific for a long time, and so the types of cutter visits that we are doing are consistent with the type of ally, partner capacity building being a partner of choice throughout the region. We have moved to consider how we might increase our capacity to have our ships available and one of the things we are in the process of doing is moving a Pacific-support cutter towards Honolulu to ensure that we’ve got an increased capacity for that kind of partnership training and interoperating capacity in the region,” Fagan said. 

“These have been plans for a while and we will continue to seek opportunities to partner and engage, particularly with allies and partner coast guards in the region.”

“We take our role as a global coast guard quite seriously and we welcome the opportunity to partner and work with allies and partners and help countries create capacity and capability to enforce their own sovereignty and ensure and uphold the rule of law,” she added.

Beijing claims a vast majority of the South China Sea, which has caused longstanding tensions with other countries in the region, including the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia.

China has refused to acknowledge a 2016 ruling by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea arbitral ruling, which invalidated Beijing’s historic rights claim over the maritime areas and recognized Manila’s sovereign rights in areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

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