Support capacity building of coastal states amid China’s expansion

China continues its aggressive expansion into the South China Sea. In order to protect the free maritime order, Japan and the United States must work together to help coastal states improve their capabilities.

The Japan Coast Guard has announced that in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard it will provide the Philippine Coast Guard with capacity building training.

The JCG will soon dispatch three members from its dedicated support team to conduct training on seizing suspects to control a situation, and the U.S. side will instruct how to board and inspect suspicious ships.

This is the first Japan-U.S. collaborative training exercise provided to the Philippine Coast Guard since the inaugural one on ship-handling techniques in 2017, and this time the content will be based on specific scenarios. It is expected that practical skills will be developed through direct instruction from the JCG and USCG, which are leading maritime security agencies.

In Southeast Asia, a number of countries have established coast guard bodies modeled after the JCG, among others, since around 2000, but there is still room for improvement in their security systems.

The JCG established a dedicated team in 2017 to provide guidance to other coast guards in the crackdown on piracy and other maritime crimes, as well as maritime rescue and the prevention and removal of oil spills.

If such cooperative training between Japan and the United States is conducted in many other countries, the standard of equipment operation and law enforcement will be raised. It is important to expand this to countries in the region such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

In recent years in particular, China has strengthened its military power and attempted to unilaterally change the status quo by building artificial islands and increasingly threatening the maritime order. The need for coastal states to strengthen their response capabilities is increasing.

In March last year, there was a situation in which more than 200 Chinese fishing boats gathered in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. The fishing boats were believed to have armed maritime militias including retired military personnel on board in the guise of fishermen, and any attempt to drive the boats away could have increased tensions.

It is possible that the fishing boats skirmish with vessels from the coastal country, and the China Coast Guard intervenes.

It is China’s usual practice to use maritime militias to make control of an area an established fact. It is important that the coast guard bodies of coastal states take appropriate measures to prevent situations from developing into armed conflict.

Japan, too, must remain vigilant against China’s maritime expansion. On Tuesday, four China Coast Guard vessels entered the territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.

Another situation is also anticipated in which maritime militias land on remote islands and in other locations. In order to accurately respond to gray area situations that cannot be immediately determined to be armed attacks, it is necessary to strengthen the JCG’s security system and work more closely with the Self-Defense Forces.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 16, 2022)