27 Oct 2020

US wants cutters in territories to counter Chinese activity

11:15 am on 27 October 2020

The United States says it will deploy Coast Guard cutters to American Samoa and Guam to counter Chinese activity in the region.

A US Coast Guard cutter on a visit to Majuro.

A US Coast Guard cutter on a visit to Majuro. Photo: Giff Johnson

US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien has accused China of encouraging fishing violations, building illegal military outposts, dumping garbage and harassing commercial vessels.

O'Brien said China was "threatening the rules-based order that's kept the peace since World War II" so the US was acting.

"In an era of increased Chinese aggression, this support has never been more important and having a cutter located in the heart of the South Pacific and American Samoa will benefit the entire region," he said.

Funding was still to be confirmed but the aim was to have one cutter in American Samoa and two in Guam.

The cutters would patrol and enforce US laws, while partnering with other nations like Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, according to O'Brien.

With Guam already having some presence, with a naval base, developments in American Samoa would be key in the region, said the security advisor.

"The US Coast Guard is currently conducting an up to $US5 million study with the intention of basing one of its must capable and reliable fast-response cutters in American Samoa."

US National Security Advisor, Robert O'Brien

US National Security Advisor, Robert O'Brien Photo: US State Dept

O'Brien conceded there weren't threats to the American territories in the same way there were "threats and bullying" from China towards Taiwan.

"But we are seeing increased activity in the second island chain and throughout the Indo-Pacific from the Chinese Communist Party, the PLA Navy is patrolling the area far more, but is also the fishing vessels and what's been referred to as the 'Blue Militia' engaging in strip fishing and depleting resources in the Western Pacific."

The cutters are 154-feet long, have a 2500 nautical mile range and are hoped to be based in the two territories within a couple of years.

O'Brien said he he spoke personally with American Samoa Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently.

He said Ardern was pleased with the idea of more US law enforcement on the high seas.