The U.S. signed an agreement with the Republic of Palau to enforce maritime law within its claimed waters as the tiny island chain’s president has pleaded with the U.S. to help protect it against questionable Chinese activity.
The agreement, signed on Aug. 23, permits U.S. Coast Guard ships to unilaterally hold ships transiting Palau’s exclusive economic zone accountable to maritime regulations without the oversight from a Palauan officer present, the Coast Guard said in a statement. Authorities in the Federated States of Micronesia and Papua New Guinea agreed to related arrangements with the U.S. in 2022 to compete with China for influence in the Indo-Pacific.
“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,” Palau’s president, Surangel S. Whipps Jr., said, according to the release. “It’s these types of partnerships that help us work toward our common goal of peace and prosperity in the region.”
Although the agreement did not explicitly mention China, Whipps in June stressed the need for increased U.S. military presence to deter Beijing’s “unwanted activities” in its coastal waters, according to The Associated Press. Whipps said since he took office in 2021, three Chinese vessels made “uninvited” entries appearing to conduct survey activities.
“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,” he said at the time, according to the AP.
Palau is a collection of islands and atolls in Micronesia and one of the few countries to recognize Taiwan, according to the AP.
“This agreement, in alignment with the Pacific Partnership Strategy, significantly strengthens our collective efforts to counter illicit maritime activities in the region and reflects our shared dedication to safeguarding the people of the Pacific,” Capt. Nick Simmons, U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam commander, added.
The agreement will facilitate the Coast Guard’s fast response to illegal and threatening activities, Simmons said.
The Coast Guard has boarded foreign vessels since agreeing to a similar arrangement with the Federated States of Micronesia in October, according to the statement. A May 2023 bilateral defense agreement signed with Papua New Guinea will allow the Coast Guard officers to board ships alongside their Papua New Guinea counterparts later this year.
“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.
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