JCG to Help Pacific Island Nations Enhance Coast Guards; Moves by China in Region Fuel Growing Concern

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Japan Coast Guard has established a new group to assist Pacific island nations in improving their maritime security capabilities, with moves by China there in mind, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

In recent years, China has strengthened its presence in the South Pacific, such as by concluding a security agreement with one of the nations, against the background of Beijing’s economic power.

Japan aims to strengthen its support for these island nations in cooperation with the United States and other countries, and to ensure maritime stability based on the rule of law, according to sources.

The South Pacific is a strategic area that includes sea lanes connecting Australia, a major supplier of food and natural resources, to Japan and the United States. The reality is that the coast guard organizations of the 14 island nations have not been sufficiently developed to cover their vast exclusive economic zones.

China, seeking to increase its maritime presence in the region, has strengthened its influence through economic support, including assistance for the construction of government buildings in the island countries.

China concluded a security agreement with the Solomon Islands in 2022. In January this year, Nauru broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with China.

There is also a move toward the establishment of a Chinese naval base, which would pose a threat to the realization of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” being promoted by Japan, the United States and other countries.

In 2017, the JCG launched a then seven-member Mobile Cooperation Team (MCT) to assist in improving the capabilities of foreign coast guard organizations. It has so far provided assistance 105 times to 20 countries. Depending on the wishes and actual conditions of the aid recipient countries, it provides guidance in the areas of on-site inspections of vessels, suppression and arrest techniques, maritime rescue and oil spill prevention.

The MCT has strengthened its support activities in Southeast Asia, where a number of coast guard organizations have been created in response to both piracy and the aggressive activities of Chinese government vessels.

In addition, in light of the situation in the South Pacific in recent years, the MCT was strengthened to four groups — with three members each — last fiscal year. One of the groups was assigned to Pacific island nations.

The concept is that the group members maintain daily contact with the island countries, continue to provide guidance while understanding the problems they face, and contribute to developing their maritime police personnel and improving their equipment. The group members’ activities are also expected to have the effect of building personal relationships of trust and thus enhancing relations with the JCG.

In January this year, the JCG dispatched MCT members to Micronesia and the Marshall Islands for the first time for a week each. Using security vessels provided by the Nippon Foundation, the MCT conducted drills for rescuing those adrift at sea and lectures on international law, among other activities, for more than 60 local officials in total.

U.S. and Australian officials also visited the islands to discuss close cooperation in providing assistance to the island countries.

When interviewed through the JCG, a senior official of the Micronesian maritime police said that he would like to continue exchanging expertise and techniques, and he expects well-coordinated assistance between Japan, the United States and Australia.