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ICYMI: Coast Guard, Air Force, Dept. of State Testify on Threats to a Free and Open Indo-Pacific

September 29, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C.— This week, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security, chaired by Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-FL), held a hearing examining the U.S. Coast Guard’s current operations in the Indo-Pacific region and the importance of the region to U.S. national security. The subcommittee heard testimony from the following witnesses: Vice Admiral Andrew J. Tiongson, Commander of Pacific Area, U.S. Coast Guard; Brigadier General Neil R. Richardson, Deputy Director for Strategic Planning and Policy, United States Indo-Pacific Command; and Ms. Camille P. Dawson, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. 
In this hearing, Members heard testimony on the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) increasing unlawful maritime activity in the Indo-Pacific and how this threatens the United States’ vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” Witnesses testified to the PRC’s provocations throughout the region and the impacts on U.S. homeland security. With the PRC’s actions affecting American territories like American Samoa and Guam and the consequential global ramifications, the witnesses detailed the importance of the U.S. Coast Guard’s power and presence in the region today and in the future.

Regarding the importance of the Indo-Pacific, Brigadier General Richardson stated:
“The Indo-Pacific is the most consequential region in the world, encompassing more than half the world’s population, the busiest maritime trade routes, and key allies and partners. It is also the epicenter for the great power competition with the People’s Republic of China. Ensuring stability and security in the Indo-Pacific is not only vital for maintaining regional peace, but also for global commerce and safeguarding American interest. The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) work together every day to prevent conflict in this region. USINDOPACOM is dedicated to preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific, where nations can thrive economically and maintain their sovereignty without external coercion. Foundational to our approach is a campaign of integrated deterrence in which we use our military tools in consort with all instruments of national power to convince potential aggressors that they cannot achieve their objectives through force.”

Chairman Gimenez pressed on the disrupting actions of the People’s Republic of China globally:

“According to testimony, the [PRC] is also the leading cause of the reduction in fish stocks from around the world. … Do you think that is an accurate statement that the PRC is raiding and destroying fish stocks around the world?”

To which Vice Admiral Tiongson answered:

“I would have to look at the numbers and get back to you. I can state that the Chinese distance water fishing fleet is the largest throughout the world.”

The Chairman continued:

“Do you find them to be law abiding or do find them to do whatever they want to do just as long as you don’t catch them?”

Vice Admiral Tiongson concluded:

“They are clearly involved with illegal, unreported, unregulated fisheries throughout the world.”

Rep. August Pfluger, chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence, emphasized the importance of continued U.S. presence in the region to deter the PRC’s nefarious ambitions:
“I hope that we will stay focused on the PRC. If you’re Xi Jinping and you’re looking at the vulnerabilities that we have … you’re looking for signs of weakness … that we have displayed over last couple years. But you guys, are standing in the gap—the Coast Guard, the Blue Water Navy, the Air Force … the ‘triad’ that we have to hold these threats accountable and to deter… what the PRC intends to do, which is to reunify Taiwan with China. And that is a stated goal of Xi Jinping. I hope that we will focus on that and focus on the threat and keep our heads down to deter so that we don’t get into a bad situation.”

In her opening statement, Ms. Dawson drew attention to China’s escalating activity in the Indo-Pacific:

“As we are all aware, the Indo-Pacific faces mounting challenges. Particularly from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The PRC’s coercion and provocation span the globe, but they are most acute in the Indo-Pacific, including in the maritime domain. We have seen a clear and upward trend of PRC provocations, most notably in the South China Sea, to include an assertive expansion of unlawful maritime claims and interference with freedom of navigation and overflight. We are taking a range of measures to address these challenges.”