The U.S. and Palau have signed an agreement that gives American ships the right to police maritime laws on their own in Palau’s exclusive economic zone, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Tuesday.
The accord comes at a time when both the United States and China are attempting to expand their influence in the Pacific, and after the president of Palau pleaded with the United States to deter Beijing’s “unwanted activities” in Palau’s coastal waters.
In accordance with the agreement, which was reached a week ago, U.S. Coast Guard ships can enforce regulations within Palau’s exclusive economic zone without a Palauan officer present, according to a statement from the Coast Guard.
The release quotes Palau’s president, Surangel S. Whipps Jr., as saying, “This agreement helps Palau monitor our exclusive economic zone, protect against Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and deter uninvited vessels from conducting questionable maneuvers within our waters,”
“It’s these types of partnerships that help us work toward our common goal of peace and prosperity in the region.”
The statement made no mention of China, but in June, Whipps told reporters in Tokyo that three Chinese vessels had entered his country’s waters “uninvited” since he assumed office in 2021. In addition, he emphasized the need for additional U.S. support to increase deterrence against China’s aggressive movements in the region.
Whipps stated, “The United States is responsible for our security and we would also inform them that we need them to engage and help us in deterring any unwanted activities.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, tensions are rising as China asserts expansive maritime claims and the United States and its allies push back.
Last week, around the same time that the agreement with Palau was inked, two Philippine vessels breached a Chinese coast guard blockade in the disputed South China Sea in order to deliver provisions to Filipino forces defending a contested shoal.
It was the most recent flare-up of long-standing territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei in the active sea.
Palau’s Diplomatic Stand and Accusations of Chinese Activities in its Waters
In June, Whipps accused China of undertaking surveying operations in Palauan waters and suggested that his nation was being punished for its posture on Taiwan.
Palau is one of the few nations that recognizes Taiwan and maintains diplomatic relations with the island, which separated from mainland China during a civil war in 1949 and established a rival government to the Communists who won in Beijing.
In 2019, the Solomon Islands government was convinced to transfer diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China. Since then, the Solomon Islands have signed a covert security treaty with China, which has raised concerns that Beijing could establish a military presence in the South Pacific.
The United States has responded with its own diplomatic measures, including the establishment of an embassy in the Solomon Islands.
The agreement with Palau is comparable to one concluded with the Federated States of Micronesia at the end of 2022, after which the United States Coast Guard conducted boardings for the Pacific nation.
The U.S. also signed a bilateral defense agreement with Papua New Guinea in May, allowing the U.S. Coast Guard to conduct boardings alongside its local counterparts for the first time in Papua New Guinea’s exclusive economic zone later this year.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the agreements demonstrate “the United States’ ongoing investment in protecting shared resources and an interest in maritime safety and security.”
“This unity of effort with Pacific island countries, including the collaboration with Palau, amplifies our collective ability to protect resources and maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific for all nations who observe the rule of law,” the Coast Guard said.
Source: Military Times