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.