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Scholars: US Expansion of Coast Guard & Cyber Prowess in Asia-Pacific Part of Anti-China Strategy

© AP Photo / Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Madysson Anne Ritter/U.S. NavyIn this Aug. 25, 2020 photo provided by the U.S. Navy, an MH-60S Sea Hawk Helicopter conducts "touch and go" drills aboard the Legend-class cutter USCGC Munro in the Pacific Ocean
In this Aug. 25, 2020 photo provided by the U.S. Navy, an MH-60S Sea Hawk Helicopter conducts touch and go drills aboard the Legend-class cutter USCGC Munro in the Pacific Ocean - Sputnik International, 1920, 19.10.2022
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas on October 19 accused Beijing of posing a cyber-threat to the US and its allies while speaking to Bloomberg in Singapore. Earlier, the DHS chief revealed that Washington would beef up the presence of the US Coast Guard in Asia-Pacific and ramp up cyber-security cooperation with regional powers.
"The expansion for security collaboration in the Indo-Pacific was signaled years ago, and is encapsulated in a document released in 2015 entitled 'A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.' In practice it means maintaining existing formal alliances and developing new partnerships across a wide spectrum of security activities, both civilian and military," said Jay Batongbacal, director at the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
Still, the shift of the US strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific started much earlier, under the Barack Obama administration. In mid-2010, at the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Hanoi, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the US' "vital interest" in freedom of navigation in the South China Sea region and in keeping the sea open for "normal commercial activities." The secretary of state said that Washington would be willing to facilitate a collaborative process for addressing the territorial claims prompting a wave of criticism from Beijing over interference in the maritime dispute to which the US was not a claimant. Obama's "Pivot to Asia" also envisaged bolstering trade alliances with the region which, however, did not include the People's Republic of China (PRC).
"The Trump administration broadened the concept by its Indo-Pacific strategy and the Biden administration has inherited this strategic concept," said Dr. Zhang Baohui, director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. "The effects of the Indo-Pacific doctrine have been mixed. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue mechanism, including India, Japan, the US and Australia, has been the biggest achievement so far of Washington. However, the Quad’s exact impact has been hard to define as it is only a dialogue mechanism, not an alliance. ASEAN countries also do not want to choose sides between China and the United States."
The Biden administration's National Security Strategy (NSS) openly called China "America's most consequential geopolitical challenge" and doubled down on superpower competition with the PRC. According to the US president, the overwhelming challenge for Washington in the coming years would be "outcompeting China and restraining Russia." China "is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to advance that objective," the president wrote.
Even though the long-anticipated NSS was released in October 2022, the Biden administration started to ramp up tensions with Beijing over a host of issues including trade, human rights, the South China Sea and the status of Taiwan, from the early months of his presidency. Following the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, Biden told ABC that the US "would respond" if there was an action against a NATO ally, adding, "same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan." Since that time, the US president has on several occasions pledged to "defend Taiwan" militarily. Beijing has reacted toughly to each of Biden's provocative statements, even though the White House has backpedaled on the president's claim every time.
US Coast Guard - Sputnik International, 1920, 18.10.2022
US Pushes to Expand Coast Guard Patrols in Indo-Pacific to Hem in China

US Coast Guard: Operating Thousands of Miles From US Coast

The DHS boss' recent announcement of the expansion of the US Coast Guard operations in the Asia-Pacific region from March 2023 should be seen as part of the Biden administration's overall strategy, according to Sputnik's interviewees.
During his Singapore visit, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said the US had committed $60 million for the deployment of US personnel and assets with partners to facilitate the "defense" of "sovereignty" and the countering of illegal fishing activities in the region.
"There are several programs in process – but one to watch will be the US-Indonesia collaborative efforts to build a maritime training center on the island of Batam near to Singapore. This would pose an additional chokepoint for navies of other countries, such as those of the PRC," said Dr. Victor Teo, political scientist specializing in International Politics of Indo-Pacific based in Singapore.
Beijing has repeatedly protested against the use of the US Coast Guard near the People’s Republic’s home shores - thousands of kilometers from the US coast.
Still, it is by no means accidental that the US is using the Coast Guard, which operates under the US Department of Homeland Security, to assert and expand Washington's posture in the Asia-Pacific. In March 2017, RAND argued that "less militaristic" and "low-key" coast guards are a new asset of choice in the Asia-Pacific. According to RAND, the US had to "enhance interoperability between coast guard and naval commanders" and "begin to develop games that deal exclusively with grey-zone escalation scenarios involving non-military actors such as coast guards, maritime militia, and fishing vessels."
In June 2019, The Diplomat's Jay Tristan Tarriela drew attention to the fact that the involvement of the United States Coast Guard in Washington's Asia Pacific strategy and, particularly, freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) was "remarkably making headlines." According to Tarriela, the US exploit of its "white hulls" largely replicates Japan's practice of "establishing stable maritime cooperation with littoral states." Coast Guards are "low-key but relevant, effective in policing yet not aggressive, and lightly armed but not provocative," the author noted, adding that at the same time, it allows Washington's regional partners to maintain the appearance of non-military cooperation with the US. ASEAN members are particularly sensitive about collaborating with US naval forces, as they fear undermining relations with China, The Diplomat admitted.
However, some Asia-Pacific nations haven't bought into the US trick: in August 2022, the Solomon Islands did not allow a US Coast Guard vessel to make a routine stop to refuel and resupply at one of its ports. Earlier, in April 2022, the Pacific island nation signed a security pact with China.
Military and civil representatives from Australia, the United States, Japan and Solomon Islands attend the closing ceremony of the Pacific Partnership 2022 on board USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) in Honiara on September 10, 2022. - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.10.2022
Solomon Islands Force US to Remove China Reference in Pacific Declaration
The expansion of Coast Guard operations in Asia Pacific and, the South China Sea in particular, is fraught with risks, according to Dr. Zhang Baohui: "if US Coast Guard ships run into situations of face-offs with their Chinese counterparts in the South China Sea, chances of accidental military conflicts could rise," he noted.
For his part, Jay Batongbacal projected that "China will respond by continuing to strengthen and flex its military muscle closer to home, notably in the South China Sea, Yellow Sea, East China Sea."
"It will likely increase the tempo of its operations and presence in these sea areas. At the same time, it will try to expand and cultivate its economic linkages with regional countries in order to chip away at US influence," Batongbacal said.
Asia-Pacific states are aware of potential security risks related to the US-China rivalry and prefer to remain somewhat neutral in the tensions between Washington and Beijing, noted Dr. Teo. "There is a tendency for the regional countries to explore and embark on cooperative policies if it is in their interests," he said.
Microchip - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.10.2022
US Efforts to Curb Semiconductor Tech Exports to China are 'Nonsense', Pundit Says

Asian States Don't Want to Choose Sides in US-China Hi-Tech Rivalry

Mayorkas also warned that Washington's Asian partners of the risks “involved in doing business with and relying on the technological infrastructure provided by the PRC." He said reliance on Chinese-built infrastructure creates significant technological vulnerability. Speaking to Bloomberg on Wednesday, the DHS chief said China has now become "very, very aggressive" in selling its telecom technology globally. "We feel compelled to share the perils of allowing that to occur with our close partners and allies," he highlighted.

"The United States is obviously asking other countries not to buy PRC high tech products," said Dr. Victor Teo. "Labeling Chinese made products with a 'security risk' is a concrete strategy started by the Trump administration. For the US it is a risk, as non-American made equipment might allow adversaries to penetrate its communications with the US. For third parties, the consideration might be quite different. As long as the technology is not indigenous, the risk of being spied upon is always there. The US is also known to have conducted intelligence operations on friends and allies, not just foes. Buying non-Chinese equipment from elsewhere does not necessarily negate the problem for third parties."

Earlier, Biden's predecessor launched nothing short of a crusade against Chinese telecom companies, most notably Huawei. Under the Trump presidency, many US allies, including Anglophone states comprising the Five Eyes intelligence bloc, prohibited the use of Chinese technologies at the core of their telecoms infrastructure. The Biden administration went even further earlier this month by announcing a new export controls policy on artificial intelligence (AI), supercomputer and semiconductor technologies to China aimed at "choking off" the PRC's access and the ability to design high-end AI chips. Earlier, in August, Biden signed into law the CHIPS and Science Act providing around 280 billion dollars in new funding to boost domestic research and manufacturing of semiconductors in the US.
"US cyber-diplomacy may induce cooperation only insofar as the actual technologies between the US and its prospective partners are compatible and acceptable (e.g., 4G vs 5G mobile internet signal technologies), and to the extent that their policy positions/standards on certain key issues (e.g., privacy, manufacturers) coincide," said Jay Batongbacal. "These can take longer, especially if the prospective partner is already heavily invested in other countries' technology (e.g., Chinese brands dominate in the cellular telephone industries of most countries on account of low costs)."
As for cases regarding provocative US maritime operations, Southeast Asian countries don't want to choose sides when it comes to the hi-tech US-China competition, according to Dr. Zhang Baohui. Therefore it's a big question whether they will follow the US call to abandon regional technological cooperation with China, he concluded.
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