Cadets are seen at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. President Joe Biden spoke at the academy's graduation ceremony on Wednesday. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Academy/Twitter
May 19 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden told graduates at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Wednesday that they have an important role to play in keeping the world's shipping lanes peaceful and open to trade.
Biden traveled to Connecticut on Wednesday morning, where he gave his first Armed Forces commencement address as commander in chief to the 240 men and women in the academy's graduating class. The ceremony was closed to the public because of COVID-19 rules.
Biden said the "disruptive actions" of nations such as China and Russia are among the challenges the graduates will face.
The president cited the Coast Guard's role in countering China's growing naval power in the Pacific. China has deployed in the South China Sea a vast force of warships and militia ships masquerading as a fishing fleet.
American military officials have warned of China's strategy to challenge America's maritime power and its efforts to reject international maritime rules.
Biden also noted the threat to the Galapagos Islands from China's fishing ships. In July 2020, Ecuador's navy discovered a huge fishing fleet of mostly Chinese vessels some 200 miles from the Galápagos. Ecuador officials say they fear China's fishing practices in these waters could affect the marine ecosystem there.
Biden also made reference to an incident that occurred earlier this month when a U.S. Coast Guard cutter fired 30 warning shots at two armed Iranian fast-attack boats after they approached American warships at a high rate of speed while moving through the Strait of Hormuz. The Navy called the actions by the speedboats "unsafe" behavior.
"We have to make sure every country respects maritime rules," Biden said. "The world is changing and we need you even more."
"No class gets to choose the world into which he graduates," Biden added. "The challenges you're going to face in your career are going to look very different than those who walked these halls before."
Biden told the graduates their generation is the "most progressive, best educated, least prejudiced, most open generation in American history."
"We need you badly -- that's not hyperbole," he said. "You're ready."
Presidents, vice presidents and top Pentagon officials deliver commencement speeches at the U.S. military academies on a rotating schedule.
Former Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama each gave speeches at the academy's graduation ceremonies and Biden addressed the commencement there in 2013 when he was vice president.
Vice President Kamala Harris will speak at the U.S. Naval Academy commencement on May 28 and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley will speak at the Air Force Academy graduation on the same day. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will speak at the Military Academy's commencement on Saturday in West Point, N.Y.