US Coast Guard chief doubts China’s South China Sea design

THE visiting commandant of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) is skeptical of China’s claim of a peaceful expansion, especially in the South China Sea where it has disputes with its neighbors, given its development of man-made islands and military fortresses, the goal of which is only to protect and advance its interests against other states.

Admiral Karl L. Schultz
made the observations in Manila as he noted Beijing’s “coercive and
antagonistic behavior” toward other claimant countries in the South China Sea
including the Philippines. In contrast, he said, the US has been offering
“transparent engagement and partnership,” both on personal and professional
levels.

“My personal
observations are that China seems to be more focused on advancing their own,
and their expanding interests in the region versus the broader Indo-Pacific,
Asian partner nations’ regional interests,” Schultz said during a telephonic
press conference on Monday with journalists from Asia.

“China talks about
their peaceful conduct, but then we see manmade islands where there weren’t
islands before.  We see runways on those islands.  We see
anti-ship cruise missiles and other military capabilities that don’t match that
rhetoric,” he added.

The US Coast Guard
commandant’s position jibed with the view of Defense Secretary Delfin
Lorenzana, who earlier dismissed China’s narrative of seeking and fostering
peace with other states claiming territories in the South China Sea, with the
defense chief saying Beijing’s rhetoric belies its actions on the ground.

“I would say we’ve seen
places like Fiery Cross Reef that went from non-existent just about, to a
manmade island, to now the military capabilities being present here, whether
that’s fighter aircraft on the ground or not.  So, we are clearly
seeing a rhetoric that says no, we’re not militarizing the region in the past
years, and then we see the behaviors that indicate otherwise,” Schultz said.

China’s behavior,
Schultz said, runs completely opposite to the multilateral effort joined by the
US to continue promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and which is
based on “internationally accepted norms and the rules-based order.”

He noted that Beijing’s expansive effort, done even through so called
development initiatives, is not only limited in the region, but stretches all
the way up to the Arctic.

“I think if you look at
China’s One Belt and Road Initiative, if you look at the Polar Silk Road
Initiative, there’s clearly [some] sort of a roadmap where China’s looking at
increasing its access across the globe,” Schultz said.

“Recently, I was in Greenland, and China had been expressing some
interest in partnering with their airport development and some possible seaport
opportunities. As a US Coast Guard that operates as the sole maritime
capability on an annual basis in the Arctic, we see China’s research vessel,
the Snow Dragon, up there six of the last nine years.  So I think
China clearly is, has some expansive intent, but I’m going to leave it limited
to that,” he added.

Schultz said the US
Coast Guard is committed to help in building the capability of the Philippine
Coast Guard through robust training and technical assistance, and even with the
other coast guards in the region, but which is modeled on rules-based values
and behavior.

“Our long-term
commitment to capacity building spans the range of Coast Guard expertise,
including transferring cutters through the Excess Defense Articles program –
including three former Coast Guard 378-foot High Endurance Cutters to the
Philippine Navy—multinational security exercises; bilateral search and rescue
and law enforcement agreements; the hosting of ship riders and deploying
training teams to share technical expertise and build proficiency,” he said.

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