The U.S. Coast Guard is ready to meet the Chinese military head on – but in a very Coast Guard way.
China claims sovereignty over a number of disputed islands in the South China Sea, and most of those claims are not recognized by international law. The U.S. Navy, under the guise of its mission to maintain freedom of navigation of the seas, regularly steams through these waters.
The Chinese consider these missions provocative. In October 2016, the guided missile destroyer USS Decatur sailed past the Paracel Islands – shadowed by three Chinese ships.
Beijing always threatens to respond to missions like these.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft thinks the freedom of navigation missions can be done much more diplomatically and he thinks the Coast Guard is the way forward.
“Look at China’s Coast Guard, it really is the first face of China,” Admiral Zukunft told Voice of America. “I would look at providing resources to provide the face of the United States behind a Coast Guard ship.”
The bright, white-hulled ships of the Coast Guard are much more familiar to Chinese soldiers and sailors.
“The U.S. Coast Guard has a very good relationship with the Chinese Coast Guard, with each side frequently boarding the other’s ships to carry out joint maritime law enforcement activities,” he said.
There’s actually a – no kidding – Coast Guard arms race in the region underway.
Using lightly-armed Coast Guard ships might actually be better for diffusing tensions in the area, instead of using heavily-armed conventional naval forces. Even China’s massive new Coast Guard supercutters will not have heavy armaments.
Zukunft added that the U.S. Coast Guard also could help Vietnam, Indonesia, and other countries in the area develop maritime capabilities while keeping peace and security.