U.S. Coast Guard Tracks Chinese Naval Task Force off Alaska

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Over the weekend, the U.S. Coast Guard shadowed a small flotilla of Chinese warships in the U.S. exclusive economic zone, north of the Aleutian Islands. 

On Saturday and Sunday, the National Security Cutter USCGC Kimball spotted three Chinese naval vessels at a position about 100 nautical miles north of Amchitka Pass, well within the U.S. EEZ in the Bering Sea. A Coast Guard HC-130J SAR aircrew found another Chinese vessel about 70 nautical miles north of Amukta Pass, or roughly 200 nm east of Dutch Harbor. The individual vessels were not identified. 

All of these vessels were operating in international waters, inside the U.S. EEZ but well outside U.S. territorial seas. U.S. Northern Command and the Coast Guard monitored their progress, and in keeping with its policy to “meet presence with presence,” the Coast Guard accompanied the Chinese task force until it departed southwards through the Aleutians and into the North Pacific. 

When queried, the Chinese warships said that their purpose was to pursue “freedom of navigation operations,” mirroring U.S. Navy patrols that challenge excessive Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea and Strait of Taiwan. The coast guard views China’s occasional Bering Sea patrols as an opportunity to strengthen the “international rules-based order,” by applying equal treatment to Chinese warships.

“The Chinese naval presence operated in accordance with international rules and norms,” said Rear Adm. Megan Dean, Seventeenth Coast Guard District commander. “We met presence with presence to ensure there were no disruptions to U.S. interests in the maritime environment around Alaska.”

Chinese PLA Navy transits in the Bering Sea have become an annual event. Chinese surface action groups were spotted and shadowed in the Bering in September 2021 and September 2022, and a joint Chinese-Russian task force of 11 warships conducted a patrol near the Aleutian Islands in the summer of 2023. Given the size of the flotilla in 2023, the U.S. Navy sent four destroyers and one P-8 maritime patrol aircraft to respond.

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