The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Stratton, seen here patrolling the Western Pacific on April 20, 2023, is slated to begin training in the South China Sea this week with vessels from the Philippines and Japan.

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Stratton, seen here patrolling the Western Pacific on April 20, 2023, is slated to begin training in the South China Sea this week with vessels from the Philippines and Japan. (U.S. Coast Guard)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Coast guard vessels from the United States, Japan and the Philippines for the first time will team up for maritime security drills near contested islands claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea.

The unnamed exercise, running between Thursday and June 7 off the southern edge of the Bataan Peninsula, includes four Philippine coast guard vessels and one each from the U.S. and Japan, according to a Philippine coast guard news release Monday.

The U.S. Coast Guard in recent years has stepped up efforts to train and operate jointly with Indo-Pacific allies at a time when the U.S. government has identified China as a geopolitical challenge.

The Philippine-led drills are designed to enhance communication, maneuvering and maritime law enforcement training. Personnel will board vessels simulating acts of piracy, followed by search-and rescue operations.

“The U.S. Coast Guard and Japan coast guard have been assisting us in our human resource development program, particularly in law enforcement training,” Philippine Vice Adm. Rolando Lizor Punzalan Jr. said in the release. “This is a good opportunity to thank and show them what our personnel learned from their programs.”

The training is slated to take place in vital shipping lanes off Mariveles, a fast-growing freeport just over 500 miles southeast of the Paracel Islands and 400 miles northeast of the Spratly Islands.

Both chains are claimed in full by China, Taiwan and Vietnam. The waters surrounding the islands have been the scene of territorial disputes over the years and of frequent freedom-of-navigation patrols by the U.S. Navy.

Philippine coast guard vessels Melchora Aquino, Gabriela Silang, Boracay and an unnamed 145-foot multirole response vessel will be joined in the exercise by the U.S. cutter Stratton and the Japanese patrol vessel Akitsushima, the statement said. Guardsmen will also participate in exchanges and sporting events to strengthen camaraderie.

The exercise comes after an unknown number of Japanese coast guard vessels evacuated this week from the southern island chain to the Taiwan Strait that separates Taiwan from the Chinese mainland to avoid incoming Typhoon Mawar, a Japanese coast guard spokesman said by phone Tuesday.

Japan received a complaint from Beijing in September after its coast guard vessels rode out a storm in the international waterway. No complaints had arrived by Wednesday afternoon, a spokesman from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said by phone that day.

Some government officials in Japan may speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.

The 418-foot Stratton, a National Security-class ship homeported in Alameda, Calif., is capable of extended worldwide deployments. It partnered with Fiji, France, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Australia and the United Kingdom in a similar Pacific patrol focused on illegal fishing last year.

The vessel departed Yokosuka Naval Base south of Tokyo earlier this month attached to Task Force 71, the U.S. 7th Fleet’s principal surface force, according to a Coast Guard news release May.

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Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.
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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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