In a dramatic move that shows the Trump administration understands that facing Chinese expansionism is about more than preparing for full-scale war, the White House announced it is preparing to base the latest U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Enhanced Fast Response Cutters in the western Pacific for maritime security missions.
In a statement October 23, U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brian noted that the USCG would be evaluating “homeporting” some of these cutting-edge cutters in the region to support allies against illegal fishing and harassment of vessels by China.
One possible location mentioned was American Samoa. If that option proves favorable, “the United States could further expand its presence in the South Pacific,” said O’Brien.
China has been using its militarized fishing fleets, naval “militias,” and man-made islands, to establish presence and de facto control of large swaths of the South China Sea. In peacetime, the U.S. Coast Guard is a law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rather than a military branch under the Department of Defense.
This USCG proposal thus ramps up the U.S. ability to deal with these Chinese “below the threshold of war” gray zone tactics with a proportionately “civilian” response.
In his statement O’Brien emphasized that the “United States is a Pacific power,” adding that:
The People’s Republic of China’s illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and harassment of vessels operating in the exclusive economic zones of other countries in the Indo-Pacific, threatens our sovereignty, as well as the sovereignty of our Pacific neighbors and endangers regional stability. Efforts of the United States Government, including the United States Coast Guard (USCG) are critical to countering these destabilizing and malign actions.
The USCG continues to modernize and enhance the capabilities of its fleet of major cutters, which play a prominent role in protecting our vital national interests, and where appropriate, those of our partners in the region. To that end, the USCG is strategically homeporting significantly enhanced Fast Response Cutters, built in a proven Louisiana-based shipyard, in the western Pacific. The new generation of Fast Response Cutters will conduct maritime security missions, such as fisheries patrols, enhance maritime domain awareness and enforcement efforts in collaboration with regional partners who have limited offshore surveillance and enforcement capacity, and ensure freedom of navigation.
Making the U.S. commitment to Asia and the Pacific crystal clear, O’Brian concluded by saying, “Enhancing the presence of the USCG in the Indo-Pacific ensures the United States will remain the maritime partner of choice in the region.”