TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The United States is dispatching Coast Guard cutters to the Western Pacific to help deter the illicit activities of China's fishing fleet, the largest in the world, which has been repeatedly accused of unlawful trawling in the territorial waters of other nations.
The U.S. government will be basing its revamped Sentinel-class cutters in the region to combat the “destabilizing and malign” activities of the Chinese fishing fleet, White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said in a statement Friday (Oct. 23).
In his statement, O’Brien emphasized that the U.S. is a Pacific power and that the Coast Guard's response is meant to reinforce the sovereignty of nations in the region. The cutters will conduct maritime security operations to ensure freedom of navigation, safeguard fishing vessels, and work with relevant authorities in the neighborhood.
As China claims nearly the entire South China Sea as its own and has maritime border disputes with a number of Asian nations — including Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Japan — Chinese boats' practice of fishing in contested waters is extremely common.
Chinese fishing vessels have also been known to travel under the escort of the Chinese Navy through foreign or contested waters in breach of international law.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper called China out over this conduct in July. He accused the Chinese military of sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat, disrupting Malaysian oil and gas operations, and intruding into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.
While the focus of the current U.S. action is the Western Pacific, the Chinese deep-sea fleet also often exploits the waters of nations further from home.
In an especially troubling incident last summer in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands — a place known for the striking biodiversity that inspired Charles Darwin to develop his theory of evolution — nearly 300 Chinese boats lingered just beyond local jurisdiction for 30 days, logging a collective 78,000 hours of fishing.