US Coast Guard chief eyes wider ties with western Pacific allies

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 31) — Aside from its armed forces, the United States looks forward to bolstering the presence of its coast guard as a "partner of choice" in the western Pacific amid China's persistent aggressive moves in the region's seas.

"We welcome the opportunity to work with allies and partners, and help countries to create capacity and capability to enforce their own sovereignty and ensure and uphold the rule of law," US Coast Guard (USCG) Commandant Admiral Linda Fagan told journalists via teleconferencing on Tuesday.

"The types of (USCG) cutter visits that we are doing, and are committed to doing in the future, are consistent with that type of allied partner capacity-building (as) a partner of choice throughout the region," she added.

Fagan, who is visiting Vietnam this week, said the USCG is pushing to work with its Indo-Pacific allies, to help "strengthen maritime governance in the region," and to "solve shared challenges."

She cited illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing as among the challenges, pointing out its impact on the health of oceans and food security of coastal communities, especially those who rely on fishing for their livelihood.

In 2020, the US government criticized China's illegal fishing and harassment of vessels in the exclusive economic zones of Indo-Pacific nations, describing it as a threat to US sovereignty and its Pacific neighbors, and endangering regional stability.

Then US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien said Washington's interventions, including by the USCG, were "critical to countering these destabilizing and malign actions."

"IUU fishing is theft and erodes sovereignty of the nations who are affected by it," Fagan, reiterating O'Brien's pronouncements.

On Monday, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) announced it will host its first-ever trilateral maritime exercise with US and Japan, which will be held off the coasts of Bataan, west of Manila. 

"The challenges in the region really do require the kind of partner-to-partner engagements and are ready-made for multilateral opportunities," Fagan addressed the weeklong sea drills that will begin on June 1.

The exercise is a result of a continuing regional collaboration with allied forces, "as a means to increase our mutual understanding of capabilities and capacities throughout the maritime realm," she added.

The drill will be held just days after the three coast guards held a maritime law enforcement training in Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, which was participated in by agencies from the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. The US government shelled out over P4 million ($75,000) for the 11-day training course, focusing on enforcement of the law of the sea, including practical exercises on self-defense tactics and vessel search procedures.

"Through this transformative experience, we are able to fortify our capabilities, ensuring the safety, prosperity, and shared interests of our maritime domain," said Ensign Gilbert Alberto Rueras, a PCG instructor.

Under the US Indo-Pacific Strategy, Fagan said, the US Coast Guard's role is to pursue "advising, training, and building maritime capacity with partners" by sharing a common objective of advocating a rules-based international maritime order, while further expanding their access in the region.

"One of the things we're 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 interoperation capacity in the region," she added.