The United States has been given authority to unilaterally enforce maritime regulations around Palau after signing a new agreement with the tiny Pacific island country, the U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday.
In the new agreement, U.S. Coast Guard ships can enforce regulations inside Palau’s exclusive economic zone on behalf of the nation without a Palauan officer present, according to a Coast Guard official.
“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,” Palauan President Surangel S. Whipps Jr. said in a press release.
It comes as both the U.S. and China are seeking to expand their influence in the Pacific amid heightening tensions over Taiwan and long-standing territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
The new agreement also follows pleas from Palau’s president for Washington’s help to deter Beijing’s “unwanted activities” in its coastal waters.
Whipps added, “It’s these types of partnerships that help us work toward our common goal of peace and prosperity in the region.”
In June, Whipps accused China of conducting surveying activities in Palau waters and stressed at the time the need for further U.S. backing to enhance deterrence against China’s assertive moves in the region.
“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,” Whipps said.
He also suggested his country may be being punished by Beijing over its stance on Taiwan, as Palau is one of the few countries that recognizes Taiwan and maintains diplomatic relations with the island.
The agreement with Palau is similar to one the U.S. negotiated in 2022 with the Federated States of Micronesia, another Oceanic island country, where the U.S. Coast Guard can conduct boardings.
The U.S. also signed a bilateral defense agreement in May with Papua New Guinea, giving the U.S. Coast Guard to conduct boardings in the island country’s exclusive economic zone.
The agreements show “the United States’ ongoing investment in protecting shared resources and an interest in maritime safety and security,” the U.S. Coast Guard said.
“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.
China’s increasingly assertive behavior in the South China Sea, such as creating blockades over trade routes, has swelled tensions in the Asia-Pacific region and smaller countries have sought help from the U.S. and its allies.
At about the same time the agreement with Palau was signed last week, two Philippine boats, with a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft overhead, breached a Chinese coast guard blockade in the disputed South China Sea to deliver supplies to Filipino forces guarding a contested shoal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.