The United States is planning to integrate its Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard over the next decade to counter China's growing influence in the South China Sea. According to the South China Morning Post, the integrated all-domain naval power would counter the United States' "most pressing, long-term strategic threat."
As per a strategic paper published last month titled 'Advantage at Sea', the integrated marine force will focus on achieving the US navy's objectives of "preserving freedom of the seas, deterring aggression and winning wars".
"China's behaviour and accelerated military growth place it on a trajectory that will challenge our ability to continue to do so. We are at an inflection point," said the paper as quoted by South China Morning Post. Based on what it calls the nine-dash line, the Chinese government claims nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea which has been fiercely challenged by its neighbours including Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. The Chinese claim was struck down by a UN tribunal in 2016 for the lack of legal basis, however, the verdict was rejected by Beijing.
The resource-rich waters are one of the busiest in the region and have become a potential flashpoint between China and the US due to its geostrategic importance.
Unlike the US Navy and Marine Corps, which fall under the US Department of Defence, the US Coastguard comes under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security during peacetime, making its work less sensitive [than overtly military actions] when engaging with Southeast Asian countries.
On the other hand, the Chinese Coastguard has played a leading role in several recent grey-zone activities, including in fishing disputes off Indonesia's Natuna Islands and the stand-off with Vietnam over Vanguard Bank.
Meanwhile, in an apparent escalation, a Chinese warship shadowed a US guided-missile destroyer USS John S McCain, who was transiting through disputed waters of the South China Sea recently, Fox News reported. While China has claimed its legitimate right over the 1.3 million square kilometres of the South China Sea, US ships regularly sail through it asserting freedom of navigation. As per ANI, the US warship was sailing through Gaven Reef and Johnson South Reef when the Chinese ship impeded its course.
"This freedom of navigation operation ('FONOP') upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan. All interactions with foreign military forces were consistent with international norms and did not impact the operation," the 7th Fleet of United States Navy wrote in a statement.
(With ANI Inputs)