The Coast Guard and China have made inroads and will continue to do so, Commandant Adm. Bob Papp said in a June 5 interview with Navy Times. (Mike Morones / Staff)
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While the Defense Department may have a tenuous relationship with China, the Coast Guard has forged a bond with the country that’s getting stronger.
Coast Guard leaders will sit down with their Chinese counterparts in September to discuss additional training opportunities, such as training exercises, that could include a chance for Coast Guardsmen to travel to China.
Commandant Adm. Bob Papp, in a June 5 interview with Navy Times, talked about his service’s unique relationship with China and what it might mean for Coasties.
During the sit-down at his office, Papp also weighed in on operations in the Arctic and how cutbacks are hurting counterdrug ops in the Caribbean.
Excerpts from the interview were edited for space and clarity:
Q. You seem to have a good relationship with China. What is the extent of your partnership with China right now?
A. We have been dealing with their maritime agencies for a long time. They are patterning themselves after the United States Coast Guard, and also those agencies individually have operated with us, whether it is fisheries, search-and-rescue or other things. We’ve done exercises. We enforce treaties together for fisheries, and I think the State Department has taken interest in the fact that the Coast Guard has so many inroads to China, that now they are inviting us to those meetings, as well.
Last year, we seized a high-seas drift-net vessel. We captured a stateless vessel, but it happened to have a couple of dozen Chinese nationals onboard as the crew. Now we could have brought them to the United States and prosecuted them here. But we’ve developed such a reliable, trusted partnership with the China fisheries agency, that what we did was we facilitated, with the State Department, a transfer of the vessel to the Chinese so they could prosecute the Chinese nationals that were onboard. So that goes beyond a drill. That’s actually day-to-day cooperation in terms of carrying out missions at sea.
Q. Do you plan any future partnerships, exercises or sending Coast Guardsmen to China?
A. We are going to be meeting at the North Pacific Coast Guard forum in September. It’s going to be held in Vladivostok, Russia, this year. And those will be the subject of some bilateral discussions that we have. We break off into meetings with the various countries, so that would be on the list for us to talk about with China.
Q. Have you talked to Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey about your relationship with China? Has he seen that relationship as a way for the other services to learn?
A. Gen. Dempsey, he is aware of it, but it’s also the PACOM commander, Adm. [Samuel] Locklear. He is very familiar because he’s got our 14th District commander right there in Hawaii with him. I would say that Adm. Locklear and Gen. Dempsey are interested. But the Coast Guard looks at a much broader portfolio because not only do we have defense responsibilities, but we are responsible for maritime economic security, environmental security, energy security. It brings us into other plugged-in points in other governments that the Department of Defense does not always exercise.
Q. With the Navy focused on its Asia-Pacific pivot, and you having a good relationship with China, is there anything about your relationship with China that the Navy can model?
A. It’s really been interesting to watch that both China and Japan have been sending out white ships with colored diagonal stripes on them. And the Japanese white ships say “Japan Coast Guard” and then the China ships say “China Coast Guard.”
If there is a crisis, traditionally we thought in terms of “send in the task group” or “send in the carrier battle group” to show U.S. presence. I think China and Japan are demonstrating that sometimes you want to use soft-power options, as well. So I don’t know if the Navy is learning anything from that other than, “Hmmm, there might be some other options out here. How do we show interest? How do we show presence? How do we do outreach that is in a less threatening way?”
Q. [After budget cuts,] the Navy is no longer doing counternarcotics patrols. How does that affect the Coast Guard? Do you have more or less patrols in the Caribbean?
A. We have less. We are doing the best we can right now. In fact, as we speak today, we have law enforcement detachments that are deployed on a number of foreign vessels that are down there in the Caribbean. They are working for Joint Interagency Task Force South. We have partnerships with the Netherlands, France, Great Britain and Canada and, from time to time, they deploy ships down there. But they can’t do enforcement unless they have a U.S. Coast Guard team onboard, so we put a law enforcement detachment on those ships, and there are some down there right now. It doesn’t make up for losing the Navy ships, where we would put law enforcement detachments, as well, but at least we are keeping it going. Generally, if the Navy was pulling out, which they have, we generally would prefer to put more Coast Guard cutters down there on the mission. But due to sequestration, we are challenged.
Q. Are there growth areas or new locations that Coast Guardsmen will be going to?
A. I think one of the areas we will be expanding in terms of our operations and that Coasties will be going to — perhaps not stationed there — is the Arctic. Sometime in the future, not within the next 10-year window, there will be people permanently stationed up there.