Coast Guard Cutter Joins Navy Destroyer in Freedom-of-Navigation Op in Pacific

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf participates in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), July 29, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class David Weydert)
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf participates in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), July 29, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class David Weydert)

A Coast Guard vessel and a Navy ship passed through the Taiwan Strait this weekend in a signal to China as it asserts its dominance in the region.

The Coast Guard cutter Bertholf joined the Navy destroyer Curtis Wilbur in a freedom-of-navigation operation through the strait Sunday. A Navy spokesman called the move "routine" in a statement to CNN. But it's the first time a Coast Guard vessel has been involved in a transit of that type in the Pacific, the South China Morning Post reported.

A Coast Guard spokesman deferred questions about the transit to the Navy's Seventh Fleet. That command did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"The ships' transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific," Cmdr. Clay Doss, a spokesman for the Navy's Seventh Fleet, told CNN.

The Bertholf deployed to the region in January at the request of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said last summer that more combatant commanders are looking to his service to help solve complex problems in their areas of operation. With China having invested heavily in its coast guard, Schultz said it was likely the U.S. Coast Guard would likely build up a presence there too.

"Tempering that Chinese influence is absolutely essential," he said.

Navy officials have stressed that their vessels, aircraft and personnel will "fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows" following several recent freedom-of-navigation operations in the Asia-Pacific region. This is the service's third transit through the Taiwan Strait this year.

China closely monitors the U.S.' presence in the waterway, which runs between China and Taiwan. On Monday, Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said it was "fully aware" of U.S. warships sailing through the strait, according to the South China Morning Post.

"We urge the U.S. to abide by the one-China principle and ... handle Taiwan-related issues in a prudent and proper manner, so as not to harm China-U.S. relations as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," Geng said, according to the newspaper.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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