Jun 12, 2018 / 14:27

International laws - key to peaceful South China Sea

The Hanoitimes - International laws play a key role in resolving disputes and ensuring security, orders in the region, Vietnamese and international legal experts, maritime scholars and diplomats consented at the third Ocean Dialogue yesterday in Hanoi.

The dialogue themed “International Law and South China Sea” held by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam (DAV) opened a forum to discuss on global changes two years after arbitration court ruling in favor of the Philippines’ South China Sea suit case and rejecting China’s so-called nine-dash line. As China and ASEAN officially enter negotiations towards a Code of Conduct (COC) on South China Sea, the dialogue participants also put it on the agenda. 
The dialogue
The dialogue's overview
Deputy Director of the DAV Le Hai Binh, in his opening remarks, highlighted the importance of international laws amid fast-changing global context. “International laws are the key to building trust and setting foundation for peace building and negotiation between countries”, Binh pressed.
He also noted the South China Sea issue is a major concern in the region, for which related parties have claimed they act in conformity with international law. However, the fact that each country has different interpretations and implementations of the same United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982 has posed new challenges that need long-term dialogues and exchanges to be solved.
Assoc. Prof. Nguyen Hong Thao, second vice chairman of the United Nations International Law Commission, affirmed that the 2016’s verdict stating that no low-tide elevations or rocks would grant 12 nautical miles of exclusive economic zone would ease tensions as it reduces the scope of maritime overlappings between countries.
Meanwhile, Assoc. Prof. Herman Joseph S. Kraft from the University of the Philippines took a look at the co-operation issues, citing the Philippines’ contentious “joint-development” mechanism with China in the South China Sea. Yet the effort still faces challenges to consist with the Philippines domestic laws and ensure the benefits and rights of Filipinos, he said.  
On this issue, according to Prof. Thao, Vietnam’s consistent stance has always been that joint-development and settlement of disputes must go hand in hand.
Yan Yan, Chinese international maritime law expert from the National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS), made some suggestions for a more practical COC, whpse framework was finalized in May 2017 and its continuous negotiations started in early 2018. She proposed more specific cooperation areas to be added such as oil and gas exploration, fishery as well as called for establishing an executive committee to monitor the code’s implement. Besides, she mentioned an observer mechanism over the South China Sea for “outside players” - countries who are not involved directly in disputes at the sea but have claimed stakes and exercised considerable influence in the area, such as the US or Australia.
"Vietnam has always been very active during the COC negotiations for years. Your consistent and clear stance helps much in the process", Yan Yan told Hanoitimes.
The Chinese expert also noted that China used to protest the internationalization of the South China Sea issue. However, that attitude has changed and the government realizes that "there’s no way to close the door on negotiations,” specified Yan Yan from NISCSS.