An international conference on European and Asian maritime security and development kicked off on Thursday in the northern Vietnamese province of Quang Ninh, focusing on disputes and China’s actions in the East Vietnam Sea.
The two-day high-level workshop is organized by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam and the European Union Delegation to Vietnam in Ha Long City, Quang Ninh, and sees the attendance of over 180 experts, nearly 50 of whom are international academics from ASEAN, the EU, China, Japan, and other countries.
ASEAN is short for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which is a political and economic organization whose members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The opening discussion of the conference focused on current challenges to maritime security and saw a consensus from all delegates on the importance of preservation and improvement of international peace, security, safety, and respect for the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The participants also hoped that all relevant nations will show a high level of responsibility and provide practical contributions to the maintenance of regional peace and stability.
Tetsuo Kotani, senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, assessed that the situation in the East Vietnam Sea has been escalating.
Though China and the United States hold different visions for the region and freedom of navigation in the area, the military balance is leaning toward the latter, according to the Japanese academic.
However, Beijing shall continue to challenge the system by carrying out actions in the ‘gray area,’ to avoid direct confrontation with Washington, Kotani said, recommending that the U.S. and allies sort out effective measures against China’s bullying activities.
China should be put into a new legal framework, the expert stated, explaining that the Asian nation seems to interpret the law differently from other nations.
Beijing’s application of threats and violence in the maritime area, which is in violation of international law, should be condemned, he asserted.
According to Felix Heiduk, an expert from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, ASEAN has not lived up to its expectations as the member states have not issued a unanimous voice or consistent policy against China.
Meanwhile, other opinion leaders stated that the organization still holds an essential role in forming regional security and providing a forum for discussion on the situation in the East Vietnam Sea.
The delegates also stressed the need for focus in dealing with the current crises and establishing practical cooperation and a Code of Conduct for the East Vietnam Sea.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Ambassador Bruno Angelet, head of the EU Delegation to Vietnam, asserted that maritime security and international legal frameworks are significant in the preservation of peace in Southeast Asia.
Members of the EU have a developed dialogue and negotiation strategy while dealing with matters regarding resource management and territorial sovereignty, Angelet said, adding that the EU could share its experience with Asian countries.
According to Dang Dinh Quy, Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, international laws on maritime issues provide important grounds for discussion and the determination of each party’s legitimate rights.
During an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Erik Francks, head of the Department of International and European Law under Belgium’s Vrije Universiteit Brussel, said the conclusion of the international tribunal relating to the suit between the Philippines and China would be proof of the power of international law.
The decision would not only help alleviate current disputes but it would also contribute to the development of global law, Francks assessed.
Meanwhile, Dr. Kotani stated that nations both in the region and throughout the world need to pressure China into compliance with the tribunal’s decision in order to ensure the safety and freedom of navigation and aviation in the East Vietnam Sea.