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US Plans to Send Coast Guard to Seas Near China

The U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter Bertholf (WMSL 750), left, and the Philippine Coast Guard ship BRP Batangas arrive Wednesday, May 15, 2019 in Manila, Philippines, after taking part in a joint exercise off the South China Sea.
US Plans to Send Coast Guard to Seas Near China
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The United States plans to send Coast Guard ships to waters in the Western Pacific commonly patrolled by Chinese ships. Experts say the move is aimed at strengthening U.S. efforts to contain Chinese expansion in the area without inviting a heated conflict.

The Coast Guard is planning to deploy “Fast Response Cutter” ships in the Western Pacific to protect the interests of America and its partners, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said in a statement last month.

The Coast Guard says its Fast Response Cutters are designed to deploy independently to carry out activities including “port, waterways and coastal security, fishery patrols, search and rescue and national defense.”

A spokesman for the Department of Defense’s U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said this week the timing for the Western Pacific operations is still being planned.

O’Brien said Coast Guard ships will check for any illegal or unreported fishing that “threatens our sovereignty, as well as the sovereignty of our Pacific neighbors and endangers regional stability.”

China has the world’s largest distant-water fishing operation, involving an estimated 4,600 ships. Chinese enforcement ships do not always follow the ships’ movements, Coast Guard Commandant Karl Schultz said last month. But he said the U.S. deployment plan is not just about fish.

Experts say increased U.S. Coast Guard activity will also show China that the U.S. is prepared to check Chinese activity without risking conflict by using navy ships. Coast Guard ships are largely seen as defensive, while navy ships are built to launch attacks.

“It looks tamer [than the navy] but it also signals resolve to confront China,” said Alan Chong, a professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. The Coast Guard, Chong said, “is a way of signaling presence without running the risk of triggering a shooting incident.”

Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. government has increased the number of short U.S. Navy ship visits through parts of the disputed South China Sea. U.S. officials say the ships were sent to carry out “freedom of navigation” exercises. Such operations are meant to show military force and support free movement of shipping in international waters.

Six governments have competing claims in the South China Sea, which acts as a pathway for one-third of the world’s shipping traffic. China claims about 90 percent of the sea as its territory and often sends coast guard ships throughout the waterway.

In September, three Fast Response Cutters reached the U.S. territory of Guam to take the place of older ships, Coast Guard chief Schultz said in a speech last month. Guam is closer to Asia than other U.S. ports. The ships will seek to prevent illegal activity, carry out search and rescue operations and strengthen partnerships in the area, Schultz said.

The U.S. Coast Guard has been in Asia before. Last year, two ships spent a total of 10 months in the Western Pacific checking on economic restrictions against North Korea. Schultz said those ships also took part in “capacity building” activities with ships from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

patrol – v. to look for trouble or danger in an area

sovereignty – n. a country’s independent power and the right to govern itself

stability – n. the state of not being likely to change or move

checkv. to examine something in order to make sure it is correct or the way it should be

tame – adj. controlled and not exciting

confront – v. to tell or show someone something that could cause difficulties

trigger – v. cause something to begin to happen

capacity – n. the ability to do, experience or understand something