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Nov 16, 2020 / 13:07

Stakeholders need to prevent unplanned clashes in East Sea: Vietnam diplomat

Geo-strategic competition and militarization in the East Sea continues the change the status quo, and further complicating the situation on the ground.

Countries inside and outside the East Sea (internationally known as the South China Sea) region should enhance strategic trust and actively prevent unplanned encounters at sea amid friction of major powers, a senior Vietnamese diplomat has stated. 

 Bui Thanh Son, Vietnam’s deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, addresses the 12th South China Sea International Conference. Photo: MOFA

Test for regional and major power relations

Addressing the 12th South China Sea International Conference in Hanoi on November 16, Bui Thanh Son, Vietnam’s deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, said that the Covid-19 pandemic has not only claimed millions of lives but also turned global life upside down, threatening to wash away all economic achievements and social progress obtained over the past decades. 

In that turbulent world landscape, the East Sea continues to draw the attention of regional countries and the world community, as it is a litmus test for the ability of the region to maintain dialogue and cooperation in the interest of the regional and global community.

The sea is also a test for the transparency and relevance of the policies as well as of the action by countries inside and outside the region in line with international norms; for the code of conduct in international relations, especially in major power relations, Mr. Son noted. 

The diplomat added that the sea is also a test case for the role of regional multilateral institutions, especially ASEAN, in reducing tension, building trust an exercising preventive diplomacy, and creating a favorable environment for the peaceful settlement of the East Sea disputes. 

 High-profile participants at the 12th South China Sea International Conference. Photo: MOFA

Unpredictable challenges to regional peace

Although many efforts have been made in promoting dialogue and cooperation, the situation in the East Sea still presents potentially unpredictable challenges to peace, stability and regional cooperation, Mr. Son said. 

“The unilateral interpretation of international law, which is not in line with the norms and interests of the international community, has threatened the significance, integrity and universality of UNCLOS [the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] 1982. This would not only weaken the foundation of peace and stability in the East Sea but also threaten to erode the global maritime order as well as global peace and cooperation at the time when cooperation is much desired than ever before,” he stressed.

The diplomat went on to say that geo-strategic competition and militarization in the East Sea continues the change the status quo, further complicating the situation on the ground, hindering diplomatic processes and other efforts aimed to promote dialogue and cooperation. 

Five-point solutions proposed to South China Sea issues

To overcome the above-mentioned challenges, Deputy Minister Son urged stakeholders, inside and outside the region, to make comprehensive efforts to cooperate and deepen dialogue, to develop together and find peaceful solutions to differences among them. Specifically, the outlined five points: 

(1) Facilitating an environment conducive for cooperation by enhancing strategic trust regarding the East Sea issue among the countries. Among numerous confidence building measure, the most important ones are to adopt transparent policies, to abide by international law and to act responsibly for the mutual benefits of the international community

(2) Actively preventing unplanned encounters at sea. He proposed adopting a code of conduct for all maritime units, not only from coastal countries but also from international players exercising their lawful rights in the East Sea.

(3) Working together on economic recovery and mutual development. In the current global recession, the Indo-Pacific needs to be a driver for global economic recovery. The East Sea should be the area to promote global trade, to sustain the supply chain. 

(4) Together working on environmental protection, marine scientific research and sustainable development in the East Sea. Cooperation in terms of maritime conservation, scientific research and law enforcement, especially within multilateral frameworks, is vital for maintaining the rule-based order and sustainable development in the East Sea.

(5) Working continuously towards a peaceful settlement to overlapping claims in the East Sea. Accordingly, concerned parties shall promote sincere dialogues based on constructive, tolerant and reconciliatory spirit as well as good faith to mitigate the difference in search of a peaceful solution for disputes, including territorial and maritime dispute. 

“Vietnam is willing to collaborate with concerned parties to utilize bilateral and multilateral frameworks of the region, including those of ASEAN such as the ASEAN Maritime Forum and Extended ASEAN Maritime Forum, in order to promote dialogue, enhance confidence and expand cooperation,” Mr. Son said.

To foster an environment conducive for cooperation, in addition to political determination, Mr. Son urged the parties concerned will continue to support ASEAN centrality in regional security architecture and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, to support and join ASEAN’s platforms on marine cooperation and to support ASEAN to conclude a joint strategic approach to the regional maritime security, and an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct (COC).