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Mice that Roar

By John Coyne

This report argues that over the past five years, there’s been an increase in coastguard and maritime border response capabilities across much of ASEAN. ASEAN states have primarily focused their new capabilities on enhancing physical presence patrols and response within their respective exclusive economic zones (EEZs). Coastguards have become important strategic cushions between navies in ASEAN.

Underpinning this regional maritime strategic trend is an assumption that coastguard vessels are less threatening, in terms of their potential use of force, to the captains and crews of other nations’ vessels during unplanned encounters at sea. It isn’t all plain sailing for this model. Emboldening fishing fleets, coastguards or militias by removing the risk of a military response to aggressive actions in others’ jurisdictions may well be a negative for the maritime security of ASEAN nations.

The report highlights an opportunity for Australia to cooperate and collaborate with partners across the region on surveillance, maritime domain awareness (MDA) and maritime patrols.

Australia’s strategic relationship with the US ensures that Chinese leaders pay close attention to its diplomatic and military activities in ASEAN. The promotion of greater regional coastguard cooperation won’t deeply offend Chinese Government sensitivities, it will attract Chinese Government attention because it is against the Chinese state’s preferred bilateral engagement model, and because it may be effective in creating regional cohesion in dealing with maritime security issues. These efforts will send a clear message to Beijing that the region is taking measures to protect the sovereignty of its waters.