Subcommittee Chair Gimenez: “The U.S. Coast Guard Plays a Critical Role in U.S. Activity in the Indo-Pacific Region”
September 28, 2023
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-FL), chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security, delivered the following opening statement in a hearing to examine the importance of the Indo-Pacific to the United States’ national security interests and the U.S. Coast Guard’s critical role in the region. Watch the full hearing here.
As prepared for delivery:
Today, our subcommittee is discussing the importance of the Indo-Pacific region to U.S. national security interests and opportunities for us to operate more effectively in the region. The Indo-Pacific region spans a huge portion of the globe and includes more than half of the world’s population. The waters of the Pacific and Indian Ocean have facilitated global trade for centuries, and the shipping lanes through the Strait of Malacca and South China Sea remain critical to today’s economy. Fish stocks in the region’s oceans continue to provide nourishment to billions around the world. The maritime domain drives the region’s economies, which together account for 60 percent of global GDP and two-thirds of global economic growth. The Indo-Pacific region is crucial not only to the overall global economy but also to the safety, security, and wellbeing of American citizens.
The United States is a Pacific nation. Five states, three territories, and eight dependencies enjoy direct access to the Pacific Ocean. Eighty percent of the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is in the Pacific Ocean. American businesses utilize access to the world’s largest ocean to obtain and deliver goods and services to customers at home and across the globe.
The region is critical to U.S. interests. This is why both the Trump and Biden administrations have promoted the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” To support this vision, we must address the existing challenges facing the region.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) presents the most direct challenge to this vision.
With its illegitimate claims over large swaths of the Western Pacific Ocean, the PRC is pursuing its own ambitions at the expense of the sovereignty of its neighbors and international law. These claims, if accepted, would adversely impact U.S. trade in the region.
In 2016, 14 percent of U.S. shipping passed through international waters in the South China Sea. If access to the shipping lanes in the South China Sea was impeded, it would have a significant impact on our economy. The PRC is also continuously disrespecting the sovereignty of countries in the region as its Distance Water Fishing fleet pillages fish stocks in other nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones.
The United States is being adversely impacted by this trend—illegal fishing by PRC vessels is depleting the tuna stocks off the coast of American Samoa, which is having a ruinous effect on the territory’s fishing industry. These fishing fleets also have a wide reputation for human rights abuses on their fishing vessels, with many crew members reporting physical and verbal abuse and having to work grueling hours without access to sufficient food and water.
The PRC’s malign actions in the region are also facilitating other illegal activity by large and sophisticated transnational criminal organizations. These trends all undermine the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” and we must address them to realize this vision.
The United States Coast Guard plays a critical role in U.S. activity in the Indo-Pacific region.
Since its establishment in 1790, the U.S. Coast Guard has provided invaluable service to the American people by securing our territorial waters, enforcing our laws at sea, and performing life-saving missions in our maritime environment. In the region, Coast Guard vessels patrol the EEZs of the United States and partner nations, and Coast Guard personnel on land provide much-needed expertise to bolster the security and law enforcement capabilities of our allies and partners.
The Coast Guard’s presence in the region strengthens the work also being done by the wider U.S. military, the Department of State, and other federal actors to advance the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
I am grateful that we are joined by a distinguished panel of witnesses who are prepared to speak about this work. Vice Admiral Tiongson, Brigadier General Richardson, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Dawson, thank you for testifying before the subcommittee this morning on this important topic. I look forward to your insights.