THE United States Coast Guard wants to expand its role in patrolling the waters of the South China Sea, which is home to a longstanding maritime dispute between several Asian countries and China, and a major source of tension between the U.S. and Beijing.
According to the Associated Press (via Washington Post), the Coast guard believes it could play the role of being the face of U.S. military presence in the troubled waters in a nonthreatening way under incoming U.S. President, Donald Trump’s administration.
Beijing has also been assigning its coast guard to the area to protect its interests, which includes a man-made island and Chinese-fishing boats.
“When you look at the East and South China seas, look at China’s Coast Guard, it is really the first face of China,” Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft, told the Voice of America in an interview last week.
“So I’ve proposed to the Department of Defence that if they were to leverage the U.S. Coast Guard, I would look at providing resources to provide the face of the United States behind a Coast Guard ship, and should that be a consideration for our approach to the East and South China seas with the next administration.”
Zukunft claims the U.S. Coast Guard and its Chinese counterpart have a very good relationship, with both sides “frequently boarding the other’s ships to carry out joint maritime law enforcement activities.”
China and the U.S. are not the only countries locked in a battle of wills over the disputed waters. The list includes, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam.
Vietnam, which has long disputed China’s historic account on the territory, claims Beijing had never claimed sovereignty over the islands before the 1940’s.
According to the BBC, Hanoi also alleges it has documents to prove it governed the Paracels and the Spratlys since the 17th Century.
Washington’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a U.S Think Tank, claimed back in November that satellite images showed Vietnam was extending a runway on the Spratly Island in the South China Sea.
Reuters reported the institute as saying continued reclamation work would likely mean the runway could mean the runway was extended by over 1.2 kilometers. It believes the upgraded runway could mean Vietnam could accommodate maritime surveillance aircraft and transport planes.
Vietnam, however, is not the only country to build military-length runways. China has built them on three artificial islands in the South China Sea since 2013. The U.S. in a move of protest against China’s reclamation work responded by stepping up cooperation with Vietnam.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague back in July ruled in a landmark case brought by the Philippines against China, saying Beijing breached Manila’s sovereign rights by exploring resources in the South China. The Chinese government, however, rejected the ruling, saying Beijing does not accept the jurisdiction of the panel.
Additional reporting from Associated Press and Reuters.